Beaufort County Council on Monday rejected a "best and final offer" from the Graves family to sell 18 acres and conserve 10 more along the Okatie River's headwaters.
Council took no votes on the issue, which was discussed during a closed-door session following the regular meeting.
Even so, its decision to pass on the offer deals another blow to the Graves' efforts to develop the roughly 142-acre Pepper Hall parcel located off U.S. 278 in Okatie.
The two sides remain far apart on the land's value, county attorney Josh Gruber said. The family offered to sell the land and the conservation easement -- totaling 28 acres -- for about $10.5 million, while an appraiser hired by the county valued the entire 142 acres at $13.5 million.
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"Council has decided to reject the offer to purchase based upon the appraised values," Gruber said Monday, noting that the two sides have been going "back and forth on price for months."
James Scheider, an attorney with Vaux & Marscher who represented three Graves cousins in the negotiations, declined to comment Monday night, saying he had not yet heard from the county.
Reached earlier in the day, landowner John Graves referred questions about the potential sale to Scheider.
The Graves family, which has owned the land for about 130 years, has tried and failed several times since 2000 to have the parcel re-zoned for commercial uses. The most recent denial came in April amid ongoing concerns about how the development could impact the river, which was deemed "impaired" by the state and closed to shellfishing in 1995.
Current zoning allows up to 57 houses and 5,000 square feet of commercial space. The rezoning proposed earlier this year would allow more than 400 houses and 1.4 million square feet of office space, according to the county staff.
Negotiations to sell critical lands along the river to Beaufort County were restarted after the latest zoning rejection. According to Scheider, the family offered to create a buffer that would be 300 feet wide by 4,100 feet along the river that could be converted into an 18-acre "linear park." Another 10 acres along the shore would be protected through a conservation easement.
However, in exchange for the sale, the family wanted the county to agree to rezone some of the tract for commercial uses, including so-called "big box" stores. They also wanted the county to sign a development agreement for another part of the parcel while insisting no development plans were in place.
Gruber said he advised Council not to accept any sale with those conditions attached.
"I have instructed council that purchase of the property has to stand on its own, separate and apart from any zoning issues, and vice versa," he said.
"We only look at one or the other at any given time," Gruber added.
Council chairman Weston Newton said he was unable to comment on the Graves' offer because discussions occurred in executive session.
Council's decision to pass on the Graves land comes just weeks after the county agreed to buy about 65 acres of marsh, wetland and upland forest along the Okatie across U.S. 278 from the Graves tract for $4.6 million. Funding for that transaction will come from the county's Rural and Critical Lands conservation program.
Although the offer represented the Graves' family's "best and final offer," Gruber said it was possible negotiations could continue.