Olive Garden in Bluffton area wins one skirmish in architecture dispute

The Olive Garden planned for U.S. 278 in greater Bluffton cleared a hurdle Tuesday when a county subcommittee voted to recommend approval of its signature architecture.

Now the matter goes back to the same review board that rejected the design, but with a slight change that the subcommittee believes might make the plans more palatable.

The restaurant chain hopes to build on a parcel in the Tanger Outlet Center 1 that is being rebuilt, but it has been in a stalemate with the county over a planned stone and tile facade. The Southern Corridor Review Board, which governs appearance of properties along the mainland U.S. 278 corridor, voted 5-1 Nov. 3 to deny use of the two materials, in part because they don't match other buildings planned there. Panera Bread and LongHorn Steakhouse also are moving in, but the two chains made concessions to more closely resemble the retail parts of the outlet center.

The subcommittee, made up of County Council members, could have voted Tuesday to authorize the stone and tile building materials outright, but it did not want to undermine the review board. The subcommittee did vote to amend the agreement to make it clear that when the County Council approved Tanger's development agreement, it intended to allow flexibility with the exterior designs of national chains that located there.

"Had we done a better job of communicating our intent to the Corridor Review Board, we wouldn't be sitting here, and Olive Garden would have broken ground," said Councilman Paul Sommerville.

The county staff will draft the revision to the development agreement, which must then be presented three times to the full council. That means final approval could take more than six weeks.

Under the proposed amendment, the corridor review board could still refuse to allow the materials.

"They may look at it and say, 'OK, we appreciate that you told us now we don't have to consider context; we still don't like stone and tile,' " County Council Chairman Weston Newton said.

Jim Tiller, chairman of the Southern Corridor Review Board, said some of its members oppose stone and tile for aesthetic reasons.

"I think many of the board members feel that those materials aren't indigenous to the Lowcountry and think that those materials aren't typical to this area," Tiller said.

But mostly, he said, the review board's decision was based on the designs of the surrounding buildings.

"If the council determines that this is something that they want to change, we'll just have to look at it in that vein," Tiller said. "We serve at the will of the council."