A northern Beaufort County flea market owner -- told he can no longer conduct business outdoors because of his property's proximity to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort -- has found a way to operate in the sunshine, after all.
Jeff Lowe said his Lowcountry Flea Market will move inside the former 84 Lumber building at 5 Parker Drive, which he owns. He also will host another 100 outdoor vendors at a neighboring drive-in theater, which has an exemption from the air station's "compatible use" rules.
Beaufort County officials have said an outdoor flea market at Highway 21 Drive In Movie Theater would be allowed, and that business' owner said he was happy to help his neighbor.
"It's one of those things that if I can help Jeff with, I will," said Joe Barth, the drive-in's owner, characterizing the arrangement as a victory for small-business owners. "Everybody's worried about the air station, so once again, we were the small fish in the sea just trying to make it."
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Lowe said outdoor vendor tables will be set one inch onto the drive-in property.
For about the past year, Lowe had been permitted to temporarily host his outdoor flea market each weekend. However, that operation was shut down last month when Beaufort County Council denied a permanent exemption from compatible-use rules. Those rules forbid such operations because of concerns about noise from the air station, which is just across Trask Parkway.
"Vendors were really disappointed," Barth said. "(Council members) didn't just hurt Jeff; they hurt a lot of small people trying to make a little extra money just to get by."
The flea market is allowed on Barth's property because he ran his business there before the creation of the current rules, which are meant to buffer property near the air station from hazards and noise caused by the planes that are flown there.
Although it did not allow Lowe to continue his outdoor flea market on his own property, County Council approved a zoning change to allow him to use all of his indoor space, which was also restricted under compatible-use rules, for the flea market.
Lowe said he now plans to more than double the number of booths after he installs a new air-conditioning system.
That's not all that's coming to the building, which also houses Lowe's Beaufort Liquidation business.
"We're building an arcade room, concession stand and ... we have a music stage being built," he said.
The workaround is fine with County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville, who said he is content the changes will answer air station representatives' worries that allowing the outdoor flea market to continue would undermine zoning rules meant to keep businesses from encroaching on the base.
"I'm extremely happy; we don't want to run anybody out of business," Sommerville said. "You just have to reshuffle the deck a little bit. I don't think anybody, at this point, can really feel like they've gotten the short end of the stick."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.
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