A prime waterfront property on Lady’s Island is set to eventually be developed into a mix of homes and businesses a short walk from downtown Beaufort, whether a current plan moves forward or not.
The latest effort to build in Whitehall is on hold — but not dead — as developers decide their next move after they were denied certain requests this week.
“They can still do a lot,” Beaufort planning director Libby Anderson said. “Whether they choose to ... I don’t know what was the driving force.”
Atlanta developers MidCity Real Estate Partners proposed seven apartment buildings, an independent living facility and 20,000 feet of commercial space on the 19-acre property just across Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge from Lady’s Island. A planning committee Monday denied new zoning that would have allowed for drive-thru restaurants along Sea Island Parkway and for the independent living facility to rise five stories, a floor higher than existing zoning.
The developers haven’t had the chance to decide their next step but will over the next several weeks, MidCity president Kirk Demetrops said Friday. His company has the property under contract from First Chatham Bank.
Apartments, offices and retail and restaurants along Sea Island Parkway are still allowed on the property under the current zoning. A four-story independent living facility would be allowed with a special exception from Beaufort’s zoning board, Anderson said.
Drive-thru lanes, like those on fast-food restaurants and banks, aren’t currently allowed.
The Metropolitan Planning Commission unanimously voted down the application during a three-hour meeting at a packed Beaufort City Hall on Monday night.
Plans met heavy opposition from Lady’s Island residents and community groups. The Sea Island Corridor Coalition, Lady’s Island Business & Professional Association and Coastal Conservation League stepped in.
But even members of that group know some sort of development is part of Whitehall’s future.
“We fully expect to see Whitehall developed at some point,” Coalition chairman Chuck Newton said in a newsletter after the meeting. “And if the plan is smart and inspired and character-enhancing, the Coalition could be fully supportive.
“But this particular proposal for Whitehall is, in our view, neither smart development, nor inspired development, nor character-enhancing development that will benefit Beaufort now or 20 years from now. It cries out for disapproval.”
Whitehall, because of its large stand of oak trees, traffic considerations and community engagement, has been a challenge to develop, Anderson said. The public is used to the property being green and open and perhaps overlook the fact Whitehall s private property zoned for development, she said.
The property is envisioned as a potential extension of downtown, with people able to walk across the bridge to a public waterfront park and potential shopping.
Before MidCity, the most recent plan was to develop the site as a residential neighborhood with 76 home sites and a 3.5-acre public park.
Growth on Lady’s Island prompted a forum earlier this year for residents, planners and elected officials to form a blueprint for how they would like the northern Beaufort County community to look. The final report offered five principles to guide growth, including connected transportation that allows for public transit, preservation of the island’s rural areas, wetlands and waterways and for transparent government processes and community involvement.