Beaufort News

County council might wrest Olive Garden plans from review board

The Olive Garden planned for U.S. 278 in greater Bluffton may be one step closer to construction after Beaufort County Council members voted 8-3 Monday to give county administration the authority to decide if the company can use its signature architecture.

The proposal -- which was approved in the first of three required readings -- leaves it up to county staff to decide whether the company can use certain building materials.

The restaurant chain hopes to build in the Tanger Outlet Center 1 but it has been in a stalemate with the county over a planned stone and tile facade. The Southern Corridor Review Board, which governs the appearance of properties along the mainland U.S. 278 corridor, voted 5-1 on Nov. 3 to deny use of the two materials, in part because they don't match other buildings planned there.

The proposal came to a vote after a lengthy discussion by council members, some of whom said Beaufort County has developed a reputation of being "unfriendly" to businesses. Others argued the review board was created to help retain the Lowcountry aesthetic along various county corridors.

"We're having the end justify the means," said Newton, who recommended the issue be returned to the review board. "We're saying we don't like the answer to the Corridor Review Board, so we're going to ask our staff to make the decision because we think they'll make the right one."

Jerry Stewart and Laura Von Harten also opposed the change.

The Natural Resources Committee voted 4-3 earlier Monday to recommend that the county amend Tanger's development agreement to allow Olive Garden to use their preferred materials and circumvent the review board.

Committee chairman Sommerville said Olive Garden has spent the past year and a half making changes to its building designs to meet the review board's recommendations, but the proposals have been "smacked right back."

"It's clear to me that the review board does not want to see it again," he said. "It's an exercise in futility and an insult to people who are trying to do business in the county."

In other action:

  • Council unanimously approved changing its zoning and development standards to allow county staff to review and approve signage permits from developers. The change stemmed from a request from Tanger Outlet Center I developers to change the location of signs on its new buildings.
  • Council unanimously approved on final reading an ordinance allowing small places of worship to hold school and an ordinance providing for a day watch program as an alternative to jail in certain county cases.
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