Olive Garden slated for Tanger I gets caught in review board web

The signature Italian architecture of Olive Garden restaurants has become a sticking point for a proposed eatery in Bluffton caught in the county approval process.

Olive Garden hopes to build on a parcel in the Tanger 1 Outlet Center, which is being redeveloped. The restaurant chain has specific architectural requirements and wants to use natural stone in its exterior and barrel tile on its roof.

But the design needs approval from the Southern Corridor Review Board, which voted 5-1 on Nov. 3 to deny use of the two materials. The board governs appearance issues along the mainland U.S. 278 corridor.

Now, Beaufort County Council members are considering whether to amend the Tanger development agreement to directly authorize the stone and tile. A subcommittee of the county's Natural Resources Committee discussed the issue Wednesday but delayed a decision.

The corridor review board did not approve the stone and tile because members said they do not match two other restaurants planned at the outlet center, Panera Bread and LongHorn Steakhouse, according to meeting minutes. Members also said stone is a foreign material to the area.

Stone is "the hill country image, not the Lowcountry image," board member Jake Lee told developers.

The Tanger development agreement approved by the county recognizes the need for flexibility due to chain restaurants' architectural branding, according to Walter Nester, a McNair Law Firm attorney representing the developer.

County ordinance also states that stone and tile may be used as building materials.

But County Council Chairman Weston Newton said the review board has the discretion to approve or deny materials within the guidelines.

Developers can file an appeal in court, but Councilman Paul Sommerville hoped to avoid that.

"I hate to send them to the Circuit Court if it was clearly our intention from the beginning to allow some architectural branding within the parameters of the ordinance," Sommerville said.

County Council could amend the Tanger development agreement to directly authorize the use of natural stone and barrel tile -- circumventing the corridor review board.

Nester said developers originally had hoped to bypass the corridor review board altogether.

"Tanger's goal really was to be able to get the entire project approved by council," Nester said. "But they were unable to secure leases with restaurant operators at that time." So they didn't have specific designs to submit for approval.

He also told council members that if the corridor review board restricts materials, those limits should be added to county ordinances to avoid deceiving developers interested in investing in the area.

"If you're coming to Beaufort County -- and this is the position of Olive Garden -- we read the ordinance; we have a plan. We say, 'We can work in this corridor because these are our materials,' " Nester said.

Councilman Jerry Stewart said Byzantine zoning rules can impede growth.

"Developers just are saying, 'Hey, we want nothing to do with it. We don't want to have to deal with these people,' " Stewart said. "That is a real negative, I think -- an impact on the county."

This isn't the first time the corridor review board and other county government entities have disagreed.

In 2008, county administrator Gary Kubic gave Hilton Head BMW permission to renovate a building on U.S. 278 without planting a tree buffer to screen the dealership from passing traffic. Members of the review board threatened to sue and urged County Council to intervene. No suit was filed, and the buffer was not required.

Members of the Southern Corridor Review Board were unavailable Wednesday for comment.

The subcommittee is scheduled to discuss the matter again at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in the third-floor conference room of the county administration building at 4819 Bluffton Parkway in Bluffton.