Business

Gullah restaurant owner denied business license by council after 5-hour standoff

He was speaking to Hilton Head council. Then the mayor and other town leaders walked out

Members of Hilton Head Town Council and Mayor John McCann left the room as a resident addressed them during Tuesday’s council meeting. He was over his time limit, but why did they walk out on Taiwan Scott?
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Members of Hilton Head Town Council and Mayor John McCann left the room as a resident addressed them during Tuesday’s council meeting. He was over his time limit, but why did they walk out on Taiwan Scott?

Five hours into a special meeting on Thursday, Hilton Head Island’s mayor and Town Council members were still hammering away at the case of a food truck business license that has been in dispute since 2015.

In all, the pseudo trial over businessman Taiwan Scott’s appeal lasted five and a half hours and resulted in a final denial of his business license for the Gullah-Geechee Catering food truck and commissary kitchen at 15 Marshland Road.

The denial comes two months after the mayor and some members of council walked out on Scott when he went over his time limit during public comment at a council meeting.

Scott was issued a business license in 2015, when town staff knew his food truck was in the buffer zone between his land and his neighbor’s.

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, Ward 1 representative Marc Grant offered Scott a deal where he could move the buildings out of the buffer and the town would pay for that process.

Scott called the suggestion “totally disrespectful” and turned it down.

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Taiwan Scott at his business, located on Marshland Road on Hilton Head. Scott has been tied up in appeals court due to building standards such as buffers and setbacks on Hilton Head he says are unfair. Katherine Kokal kkokal@islandpacket.com

Thursday’s discussion characterized the original issuing of a business license as a “goodwill” gesture in which the town knew there were violations on Scott’s property and expected him to fix them, according to Land Management Ordinance official Teri Lewis.

The problem was that there was no plan in place for Scott to fix those LMO violations, and his license was renewed year after year until 2019, when town staff denied the renewal application.

When that happened, Lewis said the town sent a notice to Taco Brown — a separate food truck that was operating on Scott’s property — that forced the truck to move.

On April 11, a post on the truck’s Facebook page said that would be its last day on Scott’s property.

Asked how the truck’s license was allowed in the months prior, staff attorney Brian Hulbert said it was an error.

Was this a trial?

One of the most striking aspects of the hearing was the courtroom-like decorum with the town staff being represented by the town attorney and Scott representing himself.

The town’s code provides for a hearing when a business owner appeals a decision about their license.

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Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

But what ensued breached typical council standards and ventured into Scott’s many grievances with the town.

When Hulbert began questioning code enforcement officer Wendy Conant about the removal of temporary signs that were political in nature from the property, Scott objected to the discussion.

“This issue should not be discussed. It is part of open litigation,” he said. “This matter is currently in the Bluffton Circuit Court.”

Hulbert continued his line of questioning of Conant before stating to Mayor John McCann, “No further questions, your honor.”

Scott took the opportunity to question Conant about an alleged physical altercation that happened between Conant and Scott’s wife when she came to remove the signs on the property.

Council member and Ward 6 representative Glenn Stanford called the line of questioning four hours into the hearing “utterly irrelevant to the matter at hand” — the business licenses.

What now?

After the marathon cross-examination of town staff, council members made short statements before voting 5-2 in favor of upholding the decision to deny Scott a business license due to the buffer issue.

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Gullah Geechee Catering, Taiwan Scott’s business at 15 Marshland Road. Scott has been tied up in appeals court due to building standards such as buffers and setbacks on Hilton Head he says are unfair. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

The two newest members of council, Stanford and Tamara Becker of Ward 4, voted against the denial of the license.

“There are many other things that you do need to work on so you can come into compliance ... so that your establishment fits into the character of Hilton Head Island and the LMO,” Becker said.

Her colleagues didn’t follow that lead.

“I believe that the town has walked that extra mile many times over to work in a cooperative way with Mr. Scott,” Ward 2 council member Bill Harkins said. “And he has failed to reciprocate.”

The audience — many of whom stayed through the entire hearing — didn’t receive the decision well.

“The masters have spoken,” one woman said as she left council chambers.

“Why should any citizen have to go through what I have endured?” Scott asked. “We are being pushed off this island.”

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.


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