Just weeks after a group of Hampton Lake residents successfully blocked plans to build new homes near them, another Bluffton property owners association has succeeded in its efforts against developers.
On Thursday, the Beaufort County Planning Commission granted The Crescent’s appeal to block the Osprey Cove apartment complex from being built on nearby land.
After the commission’s 5-3 vote, John Nastoff, president of the Crescent’s property owners association, expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“We think that justice was served,” he said. “We felt that the attorneys brought forth the important parts of our concerns out and they executed what we always have discussed from the beginning.”
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The decision not only halts construction of the four-building, 45-unit affordable housing complex, but stands as a stunning rebuke of the Staff Review Team by the county’s planning commission.
The commission first reviewed The Crescent’s appeal July 2 after Osprey Cove had received approval from the county’s Staff Review Team. The commission referred the matter back to the staff, instructing them to consider whether a 2005 easement agreement allowed for the construction on the land, near the Best Buy shopping plaza on U.S. 278.
The Staff Review Team decided on July 11 that the agreement did not prohibit the developer from building apartments, which prompted a final appeal from The Crescent.
Walter Nester, the attorney for Stafford Rhodes LLC, which owns the land in question, said he was surprised by the decision – and not pleased.
“We’ve been willing and have said on multiple occasions, ‘tell us, Crescent Property Owners Association, what is it that you’d like to see us do?,’” he said. “’What can we do to help you understand what our development is and what can we do to address your concerns?’
“They’ve never given us those concerns.”
A primary issue at Thursday’s hearing was whether Osprey Cove’s application was technically considered complete. Its first proposal indicated that no easements or covenants existed, but the second application — the one considered for final approval — did not have either the “yes” or “no” box checked.
Commission member Jason Hincher, who proposed the motion for granting the appeal, said after the meeting that he couldn’t approve a project whose application was incomplete.
“As an applicant, I think they were obligated to make up their mind about what their position was (on the restrictive covenant) and not just leave it in limbo,” he said. “It’s kind of like saying ‘I don’t know if there’s a covenant or not, but I’m going to submit it anyway.’ There’s not a maybe. It’s a yes or a no.”
Beaufort County’s community development director, Eric Greenway, addressed the commission after it ruled against his staff’s approval to move Osprey Cove forward.
“Just from a staff perspective, we will expect some findings of fact to be filed with us timely so that staff can decide what it’s going to do with this action this evening,” he said. “You guys need to either tell the (county) attorney or the attorney needs to understand what the basis is for the reversal of the staff decision.”
Nevertheless, Greenway said after the meeting that he honors the commission’s ruling.
“We’re going to decide on our options moving forward based on their findings of fact,” he said.
Planning Commission Chairman Bob Semmler, who cast one of the three votes against the appeal, said in the hearing he was “stunned” by the vote.
“We made a decision tonight; now, we’ve got to support it,” he said to his colleagues who granted the appeal. “The vote was a vote, and you all voted by your conscience, and that’s what’s important. But now, we’ve got to justify it. You’ve got to say why you voted the way you did.”
The decision Thursday does not permanently prevent the apartments from being built, but it does block the current version of apartments at the proposed location. It also prevents the proposed apartment complex, widely seen as needed in Beaufort County, from being constructed.
If the apartments want to move forward, Semmler said it’s up to the developer to change the plan or reach another agreement.
“Right now, they cannot (build apartments),” he said. “That doesn’t mean in the future, they can’t come together, but they’ve got to work together. But right now, they cannot proceed.”