A rezoning request tangled up with land preservation efforts is not ideal from the public's perspective.
But if there's a chance to protect 147 acres along the headwaters of the Okatie River from intense commercial and residential development and preserve a stunning vista along a major thoroughfare, Beaufort County officials should try -- again.
This wouldn't be the first time county officals have talked to members of the Graves family about purchasing property or development rights. Unfortunately, those talks mostly have come to naught.
But times and circumstances change. Their attorney raised the subject of a public purchase at a recent county Planning Commission meeting that included the rezoning request. He asked the commission to postpone a vote and instead recommend County Council facilitate an agreement with the family "to find an acceptable means to protect the integrity of the Okatie River, and to do so in the next 30 days and then re-appear before this body."
The commission went ahead with the rezoning issue, but it was a 4-4 vote that resulted in no recommendation to County Council.
County officials should seek a way to further efforts to protect the Okatie. We've long said there are certain areas that just shouldn't be developed, and this is one of them.
In its 2004 "greenprint" plan to guide land and development rights purchases, the county identified the "Okatie River Focus Area." And county officials have indeed focused a lot of attention on this area.
Since 2001, the county has spent $20.1 million buying land or development rights involving 288 acres, including a conservation easement on 17 acres at Pepper Hall from another Graves family member. As recently as 2010, the county spent a total of $7.2 million protecting more than 95 acres in the area.
That's an investment that should not be squandered by intense development on the Okatie headwaters' shores.
The four Planning Commission members who voted for the rezoning were very short-sighted. To say that assurances the river would be protected were enough to warrant such a drastic land use change is to ignore recent history and our inability to adequately protect our sensitive waterways from damaging development.
We hope the council members are less short-sighted. They have demonstrated their commitment to protecting the Okatie River from further damage and trying to restore it to good health in the millions of dollars they have spent to date. Now is not the time for the council to weaken its resolve.
Yes, the rezoning request puts pressure on the county, but the decision on that request and the decision on paying to preserve the property is theirs to make.
Let's protect this property and the Okatie River.