Another developer wants to negotiate with Bluffton. Here’s what’s on the table

Bluffton plans to negotiate Wednesday with a developer over who’s responsible for building a connector road between U.S. 278 and a planned realignment of Bluffton Parkway. The interest in the road indicates more development is likely coming to the burgeoning Buckwalter corridor.

Indian Hill Associates LLC — owner of the planned 162-acre Willow Run tract inside the Buckwalter planned unit development— is requesting that the town forgo the requirement that Indian Hill build the road before development begins. Buckwalter — 26 percent built out — is one of seven development agreements covering 92 percent of Bluffton.

The developer has agreed to sell a portion of the land at Willow Run to Retail Planning Corp., a development company in Atlanta, according to a letter from Indian Hill’s lawyer. However, Jennifer Hathaway, Retail Planning Corp.’s development manager said any plans to build on the property are on “the backburner.”

The development agreement between the town of Bluffton and Indian Hill, part of the Buckwalter plan signed in 2008, allows for 260 homes and two 150-unit hotels. As part of that agreement, Indian Hill is required to build a road connecting U.S. 278 to the long-delayed Bluffton Parkway Phase 5B — a plan that has been in limbo since 2006.

Indian Hill is requesting to revise this requirement due to development changes in Bluffton over the past decade: the traffic signal installed at U.S. 278 and Saint Gregory Drive; a frontage road parallel to U.S. 278 from Buckwalter Parkway to Saint Gregory Drive; and, the postponement of Bluffton Parkway Phase 5B’s construction.

An aerial view of the Willow Run development property in 2014. Town of Bluffton

The town of Bluffton’s negotiating committee will discuss the proposed changes to the agreement Wednesday.

Negotiating committee member and town councilman Fred Hamilton said the connector road is an important “piece of the puzzle” and added he’s concerned about the developer’s proposal.

“Hopefully this is not a part of them saying this will make their sale more friendly if they could take that obligation away,” he said. “What are their plans? What’s the reason for the change?”

The purpose of the negotiating committee is for the town, applicants and property owners to discuss development proposals of “significant complexity, size or impact.” Proposals are referred to the negotiating committee by council.

In 1996, Beaufort County Council rezoned the land owned by Indian Hill to the Willow Run Planned Unit Development for 590 residential single family homes and 7.4 acres of commercial use. In 2003, the land was annexed into the town of Bluffton.

The town of Bluffton sued Indian Hill for clear-cutting 107 acres of trees in 2014— a violation of the development agreement. Indian Hill agreed to pay the town $71,500 to settle the suit.

Willow Run has been the target of several failed development projects in the past, including a proposed 550,000-square-foot shopping center called The Shoppes at Willow Run.

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A reporter for The Island Packet covering local government and development, Kacen Bayless is a native of St. Louis, Missouri. In the past, he’s worked for St. Louis Magazine, the Columbia Missourian, KBIA and the Columbia Business Times. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree with an emphasis in Investigative Reporting from the University of Missouri in 2019.