Group steels itself for Whitehall development

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By Lisa Allen

About 90 people poured into a Beaufort fellowship hall on June 22 to hear about development plans for the Whitehall property, a 19-acre highly visible parcel at the foot of the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge.

The session, arranged by the Sea Island Corridor Coalition, included a primer on the city development approval process from City Planner Libby Anderson, an appeal from the Coastal Conservation League that the developer save trees and open space, and a plea from coalition president Chuck Newton for the public to remain organized, educated and active.

MidCity Real Estate Partners, based in Atlanta, is in the process of buying the parcel from a bank that acquired it via foreclosure. The sale is expected to be final by the end of the year and once approved, MidCity will proceed with development. A representative from MidCity planned to attend the meeting but a conflict arose at the last minute, Newton said.

City planner Anderson said several Whitehall development plans — and owners — have come and gone since the property was annexed into the city of Beaufort in 2005. 

A letter distributed at the end of the meeting from Kirk Demetrops, CEO of MidCity, said the group did a rough concept plan for the parcel in 2016, but is now talking with the city about donating a parcel for public access. They also want to promote pedestrian and bicycle connectivity to downtown. 

MidCity said it anticipates having a complete, detailed plan for the property available by early August. 

“We believe there is significant demand for high quality residential and boutique commercial and office (space) along Sea Island Parkway,” Demetrops wrote. “Other uses are being considered.” 

Demetrops concluded with “If there are any important factors discussed (at the meeting), please summarize and provide to us.”

Several residents expressed concern about additional traffic pressure on Meridian Road, already a heavily used alternative to the Woods Bridge. 

Anderson said the scope of the traffic study has yet to be determined, but it’s likely the development will have more than one point of entry. 

“In some respects, dilution is a solution,” she said. She would suggest to the county that the traffic study review the entire length of Meridian Road, including its intersection with both Sea Island Parkway and Lady’s Island Drive.

Kate Schaefer, director of the conservation league’s South office, said her group believes walkability is paramount, particularly given the parcel’s location. “We have a swing bridge and no transit system.”

She said when communities are designed to enable people to tend to daily needs via foot or bike — called “internal trip capture”—the number of car trips are cut in half.

However, even under the city’s brand new form-based code, open space and walkability components aren’t required under the property’s T4N neighborhood zoning.

“That’s the plan, that’s the vision, but it isn’t a requirement,” Anderson said. The city also has a much shorter set-back requirement from the water compared to the county. 

Anderson said developers will have to submit several plans for approval, including subdivision, infrastructure, traffic study, design review and an arborist report. Some will be reviewed by staff, some by the Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission. The city is required under state law to decide quickly on each plan, taking no longer than 60 days. 

The Metropolitan Planning Commission is comprised of two representatives each from the city of Beaufort, the town of Port Royal and Beaufort County. In theory, a city development could be outvoted 4-2 by Port Royal and the county.

Newton said the intent of the meeting was to make sure residents will be part of the development discussion. He said he wants conversations out in the open rather than behind closed doors.

“We’re trying to get into the game early,” he said.