Citizens battle city hall (and win)

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Photo above: Lauren Kelly goes over some of the finer details of the proposed development of the Whitehall property on Lady’s Island. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

By Sally Mahan

After months of citizen activism, plans for a huge new development were ditched after a 6-0 “no” vote by the Metropolitan Planning Commission at a highly anticipated, three-hour long meeting on Nov. 13.

The 19-acre parcel, called Whitehall, is at the foot of the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge and has been a source of contention as locals have expressed concerns about traffic, trees, the environment and the development in general.

“Tonight, the residents of Lady’s Island had a chance to speak, and they refused to settle for colorless development or false resolutions to problems such as traffic and development density,” said Chuck Newton, chairman of the Sea Island Coalition. “We’re pleased with the wisdom of the MPC, and hopeful both the city and the county get this message moving forward.”

More than 200 people turned out for the meeting of the MPC, a body that represents Beaufort County, the City of Beaufort and the Town of Port Royal. Every seat was taken and the crowd spilled out into the lobby.

The developers were asking for special zoning classification that would have increased the permitted density for the Whitehall property, according to the Sea Island Coalition. 

MidCity Real Estate Partners, of Atlanta, owns the property but has been working with Sam Levin of Beaufort and other partners as the Whitehall Development Group.

The Whitehall plan would have been for a mix of commercial/retail space along the Sea Island Parkway, with apartments and an independent living facility in the interior of the property.

Five stand-alone commercial buildings, ranging in size from approximately 2,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet, and seven residential apartment towers – each four stories high – were planned.

A smaller structure would serve as a space for offices, pool support and resident storage for bicycles, etc. 

Another structure would have been a 100-unit independent living facility built as part of the property.

Activists were pleased that the MPC voted the zoning change that was being requested by the developers.

“What this decision did was confirm a strict reading of the Civic Master Plan, and the importance of reading the Beaufort Code based on its spirit and intent rather than making it up as we go along, as this application attempted to do,” said Newton.

“But it also confirmed the importance of the community’s voice and the centrality of the ‘Five Principles for Future Growth On Lady’s Island’ that emerged from the Designing Lady’s Island meetings of last spring.”

Newton told the MPC that the Sea Island Corridor Coalition was not  trying to thwart the plan, but asking for smarter development.

“We fully expect to see Whitehall developed at some point,” he said. “And if the plan is smart and inspired and character-enhancing, the coalition could be fully supportive.

“But this particular proposal for Whitehall is, in our view, neither smart development, nor inspired development, nor character-enhancing development that will benefit Beaufort now or 20 years from now,” he said.

The proposal was also opposed by the Coastal Conservation League and the Lady’s Island Business & Professional Association.

The developers now have an option to appeal the MPC in court, return to the drawing board and resubmit a new application, or abandon its initiative entirely.

As for future development, Newton said he hopes people stay involved. 

“They showed up (for Whitehall),” he said. “I hope it’s not a flash in the pan. You have to stay at this if you want to have any impact.”