Development agreement a plus for Port Royal residents

The town of Port Royal has done well by the public with a new development agreement approved last week for the shuttered port site the state wants to sell.

Development of this rare and beautiful tract on deep water would be an economic game-changer for the small town -- and a tourism, business and real estate boost for all of Beaufort County. It has the potential to be a landmark for the county, along the lines of Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island, the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort and Hunting Island State Park.

In the new, five-year development agreement with the South Carolina State Ports Authority, owner of the 317-acre tract, the town continues to cooperate to push the dream along. It has to act as a third-party to the seller and buyer, but it has done well to protect the public with a new agreement that:

  • Puts in place for the first time the date-certain removal of a shuttered drystack storage building, which residents have wanted to see go for years. Removal of that eyesore was the first thing mentioned when public input started almost a decade ago on potential new uses of the port site. In the new agreement, the building must be removed within 12 months of the sale of the land, or within two months of the end of the five-year agreement.
  • Enables the town to go ahead with improvements on the pedestrian promenade on the waterfront, even without a sale. That enables the town to use an existing grant. It will largely be used to repair the current boardwalk.
  • Calls for the Ports Authority to repay the town up to $64,500 for planning and legal expenses it has borne to get the site ready for a buyer.
  • Keeps intact restrictions on future development that residents and town staff established over a number of years. The limit is 425 residences and 250,000-square feet of commercial space on the 52 buildable acres.
  • Keeps the commitment for two town parks, one on London Avenue of about 10 acres, and another on Paris Avenue of about an acre.
  • The port has been closed since 2004 when the Ports Authority deemed it too expensive to operate. Since 2006, three different developers have tried to buy it for residential and commercial building. The most recent attempt, by the Port Royal Redevelopment Group, fell through in September after four extensions were granted for it to secure financing.

    The town and Ports Authority need to enhance what seems to be a closer relationship as a new appraisal is prepared and the site remains on the market. While it is not spelled out in the new development agreement, the Ports Authority needs to continue cleaning up the tract, which it started last fall. It needs to clean up along the fence line that unfortunately partitions the port site from the quaint town. And it must aggressively market the site, which may be small in the authority's overall operation, but looms large in Beaufort County.