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County Council OKs policy that lifts zoning restraints

The Beaufort County Council approved a controversial policy Monday that will allow property owners in some rural areas to increase the subdivision of their lots.

Previously, property owners could build one home per three acres. Under the new policy, landowners on St. Helena Island and north of the Whale Branch can add three subdivisions of their rural parcels and landowners on Port Royal Island can subdivide two additional units. The new policy eliminates “rural residential” zoning. It passed 8-3.

Council members Paul Sommerville, Laura Von Harten and Steven Baer voted against the policy. It prematurely opens the door to the potential of thousands more houses being built, they said — more than 1,120 north of Whale Branch, nearly 2,000 on St. Helena and 107 on Port Royal Island.

“Particularly on St. Helena, we’d have an infrastructure deficit on the bridges,” Sommerville said, referring to the Richard V. Woods Memorial and J.E. McTeer bridges between the sea islands and mainland. “I’m concerned that we not put additional pressure on these bridges unless we put in some alternative infrastructure to carry the traffic.”

Council members Bill McBride and Gerald Dawson said the projections extend 265 years in the Sheldon area and 66 years on St. Helena.

“The potential is there, but this is far-fetched if you think that number of dwelling units is ever, ever going to be on St. Helena Island in 66 years or 166 years,” said McBride, adding that his constituents on the island support the new zoning rules.

Dawson said landowners in his district also wanted the increased flexibility the new rural policy will provide.

Airport board

Council members clashed over the potential make-up of the county Airports Board after council chairman Weston Newton made a motion to reshuffle the existing nominees to add Anne Esposito into contention for an open seat.

Esposito served on the board before the council in December created new membership criteria, including two members who live within four miles of either Hilton Head Island Airport or Beaufort County Airport on Lady’s Island.

Newton said he had received “ample criticism” from residents convinced the new regulations were created to prevent certain people — including Esposito — from being on the board.

“I’m trying to avoid any appearance of political maneuvering that cut the only woman on the board out, who is highly known in the community and well qualified,” Newton said.

Councilman Steve Baer said the move was ill-advised because new openings would be available in nine months.

“It’s political gerrymandering,” Baer said. “If we do this now in an irregular kind of process like this, we bring back all the old taints of manipulation and stacking of this board.”

The motion passed 9-2.

Esposito joins five other nominees being considered for spots on the county airports board.

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