Beaufort News

County Council gives initial approval to buying Beaufort Commerce Park

Beaufort County Council gave initial approval Monday to purchase Beaufort Commerce Park, though details have yet to be worked out.

Since the proposed purchase must be presented to council three times over six weeks, granting initial approval -- even without knowing details -- will give the item a head-start.

Council did not debate the merits of the project, and the vote does not commit it to the purchase.

Details will be worked out in a Finance Committee meeting Jan. 18.

"It will be vetted in committee," said county administrator Gary Kubic. "If it receives a recommendation from committee to move forward, the second reading will be more explicit with the terms and conditions."

In 2006, the Lowcountry Economic Network, a public-private agency that recruits businesses to the area, purchased 200 acres near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort for the park. The network intended to pay off the three-year loan as it sold property to the businesses it recruited. But as of last year, only about 30 acres had been sold. The network still owes $2.4 million and the banks no longer offer interest-only financing.

In March, the council authorized Kubic to offer up to $1.5 million for the park, an amount lenders rejected.

Councilman Steven Baer cast the sole "no" vote and characterized the initial tally as irresponsible.

"In terms of looking out for the people's interests, we don't know if this is a good plan or not that we're rushing forward to finance. We don't know what the alternatives are, we don't even know what the total costs are," Baer said. "What we're doing here is, without any more data, we're taking two weeks out of the review process of the people and the taxpayers."

He said voting yes with little information creates the impression the council has made up its mind on the project.

Councilwoman Laura Von Harten said council must indicate interest before a business plan can be created.

"It's just impossible to get to that level of detail and put that amount of work into creating that level of detail until there's some commitment on our end," she said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the Beaufort County 2010 Comprehensive Plan and buy a $145,300 replacement ambulance for Beaufort County EMS.