After nearly three years of litigation, arbitration and mediation, a law suit pitting Airport Junction LLC/Fred Trask vs. the City of Beaufort is close to being settled. The agreement establishes clear guidelines for Trask’s properties within the City limits.
The Beaufort City Council is scheduled to review the proposed agreement on first reading at its June 28 meeting. Additional reviews by the Council and the Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission will come this summer.
“Differing opinions on zoning agreements are no fun and it is unfortunate they result in drawn out and costly lawsuits and no one wins,” said Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling. “Mediation leading to this settlement was the best approach for both parties. It now appears we will be able to put this manner behind us.
“This agreement creates size limits and visual buffers for any big-box stores that might eventually be built on this Lady’s Island site and it addresses how the buildings are situated on the land. It also takes a quarter-million square feet of commercial space out of the development agreement, further protecting the look and feel of this part of Lady’s Island and mitigating any potential traffic problems,” Keyserling said.
The issue dates back to 1994 when Beaufort County approved a Planned Unit Development along with a Development Agreement for Trask’s 41 acres adjacent to and across Highway 21 from the Lady’s Island Airport. Before any dirt was turned, in 2003 the property was annexed into the City of Beaufort. The Beaufort City Council accepted and later renewed the Development Agreement.
In January 2008, Walmart sought permits to build a 195,000-square-foot store on Trask’s land at Airport Junction. At the time, zoning for the property allowed up to 250,000 square feet of commercial space, but Beaufort officials twice rejected the proposal. They argued the Airport Junction Planned Unit Development was for an office park with several smaller buildings — rather than one large “big-box” structure.
The settlement provides for a new development agreement between the City of Beaufort and Fred Trask/Airport Junction LLC which sets a maximum building size on his commercial property. The agreement addresses the placement and visual buffers required on structures greater than 55,000 square feet sited on the property.
Furthermore, the new agreement includes other Trask properties including Upper Cane Island and Lower Cane Island , between Lady’s and Cat Islands and the McTeer Bridge, Airport Junction at Lady’s Island, and properties along SC Highway 170 near Lowes that include Hanover Park, Caroline Field and Burton Properties. As part of the agreement, all those projects receive a 10-year extension on their Planned Unit Development permits.
Even though the agreement is constituted as legal settlement, because it involves modifying and extending development agreements, it must be reviewed by the Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission, undergo two public hearings and two readings by Beaufort City Council.
Highlights of the pending agreement include:
1. Over a quarter-million square feet of potential construction are removed from development on several Lady’s Island properties owned by Fred Trask in the City of Beaufort
2. The City acknowledges that a big-box store can be built at the Airport Junction property on Lady’s Island, but smaller than originally proposed – it can be a maximum of 150,000 square feet under one roof
3. Any structure larger than 55,000 square feet at Airport Junction must be set back at least 300 feet from US 21 (Sea Island Parkway), similar to the Lowe’s store on SC 170 in Beaufort. Within that 300-foot buffer, smaller buildings are allowed or it can remain green space
4. Any construction 55,000 square feet or greater at Airport Junction must be oriented toward Airport Circle, and not US 21,with parking between the building and Airport Circle.
5. Trask agrees to donate to the City 1.5 acres on Upper Cane Island for possible use as a future fire station
6. Trask and his real estate development companies receive a 10-year extension on their development permits agreements within Beaufort city limits
7. Trask agrees to end his lawsuit against the City related to the Walmart project and Airport Junction
8. The agreement requires public hearings then review and adoption by the Beaufort City Council – expected to start with first reading June 28
9. The Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission will review the revised settlement agreement.
Copies of the proposed agreement are available at Beaufort City Hall and at the Beaufort County Library’s main branch on West Street.