An ongoing debate about docks in downtown Beaufort won’t end with two current projects stretching to the Beaufort River, an attorney with a background in coastal permitting said this week.
Because of deteriorating conditions in the nearby creek, more property owners in the Point neighborhood will apply to extend their docks to the river, said Mary Shahid, who is representing Scott Sonoc and Marsha Williams.
The Beaufort couple has received permits to build two docks to the Beaufort River — one of which is already completed — from their two properties on Port Republic Street, sparking a debate over the structures’ effect on the historic district.
The issue could lead to rules addressing docks within city limits, a topic the current code doesn’t specifically tackle. The city has included docks in its new code currently under review.
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Beaufort’s Historic District Review Board this week talked of adding provisions sooner. In the meantime, they denied requests from Sonoc and Williams asking to add boat lifts and electricity to the docks.
The decision followed a debate about the panel’s authority over docks. Shahid argued Wednesday that docks extend outside of the city’s historic district and the board’s purview.
“We want to work with you to minimize impact,” said Shahid, an attorney with Charleston firm Nexsen Pruet. “We will entertain any suggestion you may have.”
The board denied a boat lift and electricity for the existing dock at 500 Port Republic and one planned for 400, citing the altered landscape, and said the new dock must match the adjacent one with regard to handrails and wooden appearance. Duncan O’Quinn, whose O’Quinn Marine Construction is contracted for the work, pointed out that nearby docks already have boat lifts and that the lifts aren’t intrusive and wouldn’t extend past the handrails.
The panel seemed resigned to the boat lift and electricity eventually becoming part of the dock, citing Shahid’s background as a former DHEC attorney advising its coastal permitting process.
“The horse is completely out of the barn now, and this is a done deal,” historic review board chairman Joel Newman said.
The horse is completely out of the barn now and this is a done deal.”
Joel Newman, historic review board chairman
In recommending denial of the boat lift and electricity, city staff referenced a section of its unified development ordinance saying structures attached to high ground are in the historic district and subject to review.
Sonoc and Williams built a 306-foot dock into the Beaufort River from 500 Port Republic after a state administrative court ruling last year that conditions in the smaller, nearby creek allowed its crossing. The permit included provisions that pilings be spaced far enough apart to allow small watercraft in the creek to travel under the dock.
Sonoc had provided the results of an engineering study he commissioned that found the creek was filling in and navigation would only become more difficult. The Department of Health and Environmental Control, which initially denied the first permit, granted a second permit late last year for a dock at 400 Port Republic.
Both DHEC permits include a boat lift. O’Quinn was told by the city that the project would have to go before the historic review board before a city permit would be issued for the work.
The review panel struggled trying to separate personal feelings from the vote Wednesday.
Newman called the process to build the docks the result of “gross indifference” to the community. Board member Chuck Symes took issue with Shahid representing the property owners in Wednesday’s meeting.
Shahid said she was there only because Sonoc was unavailable.
“He didn’t send me here to offend you,” Shahid said. “It’s not indifference. He just has a different opinion than you on how he should use his property.”