Real Estate

Pepper Hall debate rises again

File: The Okatie River flows past the Pepper Hall tract, at right, in this June 8, 2015, view from the U.S. 278 bridge.
File: The Okatie River flows past the Pepper Hall tract, at right, in this June 8, 2015, view from the U.S. 278 bridge.

Just in time for Halloween, the Pepper Hall debate has risen from the dead.

Beaufort County Council was poised to deny commercial zoning on the property along U.S. 278 near the Okatie River on Monday night -- a vote it has made twice before -- but instead narrowly voted to delay the decision for a month.

After two and a half years of deadlocked debate about what kind of development would be appropriate on Robert Graves' property there, Councilman Stu Rodman implored the council for 30 additional days for members to re-study Graves' proposals and plans.

A hotly debated 5-4 vote ultimately sided with Rodman, breathing a last breath of life into a proposal that seemed to be all but buried.

Graves' application to rezone his and some acreage owned by two of his cousins for commercial and residential use is the final unresolved piece of the current Pepper Hall puzzle. It was put on hold in 2013 while County Council considered buying a majority of the land for $11.5 million, a proposal scuttled in June.

"A blind man could see that this property is no longer a rural area," Graves said Monday.

He and nearly all 11 council members agree that some limited commercial development should be allowed on the property, but some members are hesitant to rezone it without a signed development agreement to limit potential building.

Such an agreement faltered nearly three years ago when a subcommittee of council members found themselves deadlocked on its terms, but Rodman suggests the full council could revisit the idea before it considers nixing the proposed zoning change.

"There's continuing confusion about who wants what, ranging from what the county wants to what the Planning Commission suggested, to what was in the development agreement and so on," Rodman said. "The development agreement didn't come to council. It was a 2-2 vote.

"I think the appropriate thing for us to do, even though I hate to kick things down the road too often, is to postpone this for one month to understand many of the issues that have been brought up."

Council Chairman Paul Sommerville and Councilman Brian Flewelling were visibly irritated at the suggestion, believing it is too late to revive a years-long debate.

"This is not a negotiation. This is third and final reading," Sommerville said. "We've been negotiating for two and a half years without success and to think we're going to, in 30 days, find some magic conclusion is highly unlikely."

"I just can't see that any further delay beyond the at least 30 different meetings I've been involved in over the last couple of years on this matter would serve any public purpose," Flewelling added. "The best public purpose would be having swift and final hearing on this ... For us to keep dragging our feet and not making a final decision is absolutely an injustice to (the Graves family) and the public at large."

Despite their protestations, the council will now hold its final hearing on the zoning on Nov. 30.

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