The years-long legal debate over a frontage road between Berkeley Hall and the St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church campus will not interupt the church's plan to build a new access to U.S. 278.
Construction on the $1 million project will begin next month and will add a new driveway and 77 parking spaces on the east side of the church and its current parking lot, according to Greg Baisch, a project manager with Ward Edwards engineering firm.
The project received final approval from Beaufort County's Development Review Team this month.
The driveway will connect the expanded parking lot to U.S. 278 via an access built late last year by the S.C. Department of Transportation during a highway-widening project, Baisch said. That future entrance, a few hundred feet east of the church's current driveway, now leads to a wooded dead end because the county's frontage road project is bogged down in litigation with Berkeley Hall.
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The frontage road would connect the church to the highway at the entrance to Berkeley Hall to the west and to the Bluffton Township Fire District headquarters to the east. However, it has been repeatedly challenged by Berkeley Hall during the past six years.
The county initially planned to wait until the frontage road was built before opening the new access, but the pending litigation does not rule out the church making its own connection, county attorney Josh Gruber said.
The county has agreed to let the church pave across a corridor for the planned frontage road and connect to the new access, he said. The plan should ease traffic, particularly during peak drop-off and pickup times at the church's school, which also is on the campus, Baisch said.
"It's not the ultimate solution with the frontage road, but at least in the short term, it'll give the church a little relief," Baisch said.
For the past year, church-goers arriving from eastbound U.S. 278 have had to make dangerous U-turns in a median crossover, according to church and school leaders. The new driveway will allow those drivers to cut straight across the highway's eastbound lanes, Baisch said.
The $1 million church project is being paid for by the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, Baisch said. Should the county be permitted to build the frontage road as planned, it will reimburse the church for the overlapping portion of the connection, Gruber added.
The frontage road remains stalled, with lawsuits pending in the S.C. Administrative Law Court and in the 14th Circuit Court. Dates have not been set to resume hearings in either case, Gruber said.
Berkeley Hall has challenged the county's ability to condemn property near the community's entrance for the road and for state environmental permits issued to cross wetlands there.
An attempt to settle litigation between Berkeley Hall and the county failed in December.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.
- Catholic church breaks silence on Berkeley Hall frontage road plans, May 21, 2014
- State, court move St. Gregory the Great frontage road issue forward, May 29, 2014
- Berkeley Hall, Beaufort County poised to go to court over frontage road, Feb. 22, 2014
- Median closing leaves few options for St. Gregory parishioners, Oct. 11, 2013