Beaufort News

As they tackle possible port property sale again, Port Royal officials consider new approaches

Rather than merely extending a development agreement for state-owned Port of Port Royal property, town officials might push for revisions to include looser requirements for open space and tighter construction deadlines for a future buyer.

The current development agreement between Port Royal and the S.C. State Ports Authority -- the agency trying to sell the shuttered 51-acre property -- expires in July 2012.

Officials say at the very least, the parties need to extend the agreement so potential purchasers know what they can and cannot do with the property beyond that date.

"One of our options is to just extend it," Mayor Sam Murray said. "But I think we're looking at making a few changes."

The town might rethink the requirement for a passive 10-acre waterfront park at the end of London Avenue and look at a smaller alternative, town manager Van Willis said.

Residents and some officials, including then-Gov. Mark Sanford, objected when Gramling Brothers Real Estate and Development of Charleston -- which signed a $16.75 million contract for the property in May -- floated preliminary plans that eliminated the 10-acre park and proposed putting homes there instead.

The deal with Gramling Brothers fell apart in January after the company failed to make a $50,000 deposit.

Willis said the 10-acre park requirement "certainly needs to be discussed" as the town and authority look at the agreement.

"Even the (former) governor, in his last appearance in Port Royal, said he could live with a smaller 7.5-acre park," Willis said. "We want to talk about it. I'd like to get it out of the way so it's not a point of contention."

The town also might ask the Ports Authority to give a future buyer three years instead of five to meet certain construction deadlines.

"We don't want the property to sit there another five years after it's bought before anything happens," Murray said. The authority has struggled to find a buyer for the land since Sanford first ordered the port closed and sold in 2004.

Port Royal officials also might consider adding a land-swap requirement. The town owns about half an acre in the 11th Street Dockside restaurant parking lot that it wants to trade for the state-owned shrimp dock and a slice of land nearby, Willis said.

A land swap is "open to negotiation" but not required by the current agreement, Willis said.

Town Council members held a closed session with representatives of the Ports Authority last week to discuss an extension.

The Ports Authority wants "to make sure a potential buyer knows what they can do with the property," authority attorney Neil Robinson said after the meeting.

Council authorized Willis and town attorney Frances Cantwell to negotiate "development agreement issues" with the authority.

Both Port Royal and the Ports Authority would have to approve any changes or extension to the agreement.

For Town Council's part, that would include two readings and a public hearing.