Program to adjust development densities won't await new Marine jet

Plans to start a program to compensate property owners for limiting development near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will move forward even though the station's buffer zone will change after the Joint Strike Fighter arrives.

The air station's buffer zone, called the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone, is based on noise from the F/A-18 Hornet, but the zone has not been established for the F-35, which is scheduled to arrive in Beaufort to replace the F/A-18 in 2014 or 2015. The AICUZ designates areas subject to high noise and potential crashes around the air station and recommends the types of developments should be allowed.

The Lowcountry Council of Governments said it will not wait for an updated AICUZ to proceed with plans to establish a "transfer of development rights" program near the base. Such a program is the best way to limit development near the air station and help affected property owners get compensated, said Ginnie Kozak, planning director for the Council of Governments.

"At this time, no one knows what the new AICUZ will be," Kozak said. "The AICUZ is an average, based not only on the ... decibels of a plane, but on the operations in which they are engaged. Therefore, there will not be a new AICUZ for MCAS Beaufort until the planes are here and flying."

Under the proposed transfer of rights program, property owners in the AICUZ could sell their development rights to local governments or developers who could then use those rights as credits to build in other designatedareas in Beaufort, Port Royal and unincorporated Beaufort County at densities higher than otherwise allowed. If the development rights are sold, homes and buildings already on the property can remain, but the property cannot be developed further.

Possible changes to the AICUZ, as well as to the base's mission, will be detailed in the first draft of an environmental impact statement on the Joint Strike Fighter's operations at the air station. The report is expected to be released next month.

It is difficult to anticipate changes to the AICUZ, said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman.

"It's too early to tell right now because we need to see what the draft EIS says when it's released around the end of May," McMeen said.