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City of Beaufort annexes Lady’s Island property

11 mins read

Council approves zoning with less density after public outcry

By MINDY LUCAS

Despite opposition by area residents and community groups to two recent requests for annexation on Lady’s Island, the City of Beaufort is moving ahead with the annexation of at least one of the properties in question.

That property, at 44 and 50 Miller Drive East, and one other, came under fire after requests for annexation and rezoning that would have allowed for greater density in the Sam’s Point Road area, were taken up by first the Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission in July, and then the City of Beaufort in August.

Many in the community opposed the annexation request for the Miller Drive East property in particular, a 20-acre parcel that included a five-acre lake.

If passed as it stood, zoning would have allowed for “mixed use” including apartment buildings and commercial development. Chief among residents’ concerns were increased traffic congestion and greater density that would negatively impact the area’s semi-rural character, they said.

At previous meetings, both the planning commission and the City of Beaufort, had initially recommended a lower T3S zoning citing a desire to keep the property similar to what was already in the area.

However, in August, Michael Mark, a commercial real estate broker representing the owner, said that zoning would not provide the flexibility that a developer interested in the propertyneededin order to create varying lot sizes.

In a unanimous vote held at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10, Beaufort’s five-member city council gave final approval for the annexation. However, in a move seemingly designed for compromise, the city only approved a T3N zoning for the property.

That zoning, unlike the T4N originally requested by the owner, only allows for residential housingsuch as cottages, small houses and two- and three-family dwellings. It does not allow for commercial development.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Stephen Murray expressed empathy for those neighboring the property, saying he had once lived across from a development that affected the street where he lived.

“So I know how that can really affect your quality of life,” he said. “But I’m also a firm believer in private property rights and believe they are the foundation of this country, and property owners within the bounds of their property rights can do what they wish with their property.”

A T3N zoning, he said, was a “good compromise.”

Mark, along with a landscape architect, were at Tuesday’s meeting at the request of council members and presented rough plans of what the project might look like. Plans include a “walk-able” neighborhood featuring single family homes and row homesand open spaces.

Mark began talking with area residents and those initially opposed to the property’s annexation after the Aug. 27 city council meeting. Since then, the project has received favorable feedback, he said.

“We received some calls about it after that (meeting in August), and they’ve all been very favorable,” he said.

While Mark would not say who the developer is, he did say that they were happy with the zoning they received.

“I’m hoping this turns out to be a good thing,” he said.

The other request for annexation, a smaller collection of parcels totaling 6.9-acres along William Street and Mayfair Court, was removed from Tuesday’s city council agenda at the request of the property owner, local builder Merritt Patterson.

While the property had already received a first-reading approval for annexation at the Aug. 27 council meeting, Patterson asked for his application to be pulled in order to separate it from the Miller Drive East property.

“I definitely did because of that, and because I don’t think the process is fair,” he said.

He also pulled the application so he could spend more time “refining his plans” for the property, though he didn’t know when he would go back before the city with his annexation request, he said.

Preliminary plans include self storage on 5.6 acres that would be accessed from the main highway and not Mayfair Court, he said. On Mayfair Court, he’d like to build affordable “workforce” housing such as townhomes that would start at $185,000.

Though some residents seemed receptive to hearing Patterson’s plans for the parcels at the Aug. 27 meeting, he said he didn’t like that he was “thrown into the same emotional environment” as the Miller Drive East application.

“You’ve got people who are uninformed, angry and vengeful,” he said. “There’s a lack of respect. It’s just a bad community situation.”

While the annexation decision will eventually close for these two properties specifically, there are those who are remain concerned with the process itself.

“We don’t like that people are running to the city because the county won’t do what they like,” said Chuck Newton with the Sea Island Corridor Coalition.

Along with the Coastal Conservation League, the Coalition led the effort to create the Lady’s Island Plan after the Walmart and Oyster Bluff projects, both county projects, caused public outcry.

The idea of zone shopping, or looking for more favorable zoning with the city, creates “problems and conflicts on Lady’s Island,” he said.

While the city’s approval of a T3N zoning for the Miller Drive East property may not be the “worst thing” if the project ultimately adds value to the surrounding neighborhoods, he said, he still “wishes city council members would act as if the people of Lady’s Island could vote for them.”

“If they acted as if the people of Lady’s Island could vote for them, then they would be taking a whole lot more responsibility for what happens there,” he said.

Still, city leaders made it clear Tuesday night they were not in favor of annexation just to add more density.

Murray added that community involvement was key to making sure the Lady’s Island Plan was implemented.

“ …I think we can have an open and honest debate about the future of Lady’s Island,” he said. “I’m confident that …with the city involved in the long-term development of key areas of Lady’s Island, we’ll get to a better product given the constraints and the private property rights that we all sort of have to deal with, whether we like them or not.”

Billy Powell, who lives near the Miller Drive East property, said while no one wanted to step on property owners’ rights, he and his neighbors would remain vigilant about what was going in next door.

“There are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily against the development of the property,” he said. “It’s how it’s going to be developed, and how that’s going to impact our lives.”

Powell, who has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years, still has concerns over how developers plan to access the property in an area that’s already congested and on roads that weren’t designed for construction trucks, he said.

“It’s going to present a lot of challenges for the existing community,” he said.

While the annexation of the property isn’t “the end of the world,” residents still have opportunities to provide input, he noted. The project will more than likely have to go before the Design Review Board, a public process, as well as the city’s Technical Review Committee, city officials said on Tuesday.

In the meantime, Powell said he is at least encouraged that developers and city leaders seemed to be listening and that residents’ concerns didn’t “fall on deaf ears.”

“We all don’t have to win or lose on this,” he said. “Let’s just work together so that everyone’s way of life is improved. Then that’s a win for everyone.”

 

 

 

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