Bluffton tables Graves property annexation request

  • In a 3-2 vote, Bluffton Town Council tabled an annexation request involving 142 acres along the Okatie River owned by members of the Graves family, who are seeking to build more homes and commercial development there than the county would allow.
  • Mayor Lisa Sulka led the effort to postpone a council decision until its July 19 meeting so the three owners of the mostly rural property called Pepperhall Plantation could provide more information on their plans.

    "We have a lot to take care of in the boundaries we have now," Sulka told council at a meeting Tuesday night.

    Council members wanted answers on how wide a buffer developers would establish along the river's edge; how much open space they would dedicate; and how many fees the developers would pay the town for services.

    Most of the property is located in Beaufort County's New River Tax Increment Financing District - meaning the town wouldn't collect property taxes on it.

    Under Beaufort County zoning, the land is designated for agricultural purposes.

    If Bluffton decides to annex the property, it would become part of the Buckwalter planned-unit development.

    The Coastal Conservation League has opposed the move because the property is located in the headwaters of the Okatie River, where shellfish harvesting has been restricted since 1995.

    The Graves have sought annexation at least three times over the past several years, most recently in July. At that time, council approved the request on first reading. However, assistant town manager Marc Orlando said the request was back now for first reading because of the amount of time that had lapsed and because the application had changed.

    Ling Graves told council property owners had assumed fees and other details would be hammered out in with the town's Negotiating Committee, where the proposal would go if town council approved it.

    Councilmembers Allyne Mitchell and Mike Raymond dissented on the vote to table the plan, but for different reasons.

    Mitchell favors the annexation and believes the Graves would protect the river and that the move would provide jobs.

    Raymond is against the annexation, saying he is concerned the deal is "zoning shopping."