Lolita Huckaby



Development impact fees – the debate goes on

BEAUFORT – Last week’s column was about the county’s development impact fees … and guess what? This one is as well. 

It’s just too fascinating subject to ignore … unless you’re one of those residents who don’t really care about what your local government is doing, you just want to know how much it’s gonna cost you. 

Of course, if you happen to be planning on building a new home — either as the owner or the contractor — your attention may have been captured by the proceedings of the Beaufort County Council in the past month. 

Or maybe you’re a prospective homeowner who doesn’t mind an additional $8,000 to $10,000 tacked onto your construction budget. It seems we have quite a few of those folks among us. 

The County Council two weeks ago decided to play hard ball with the municipal councils who they felt were asking too many questions how these proposed fees were gonna work and what projects were going to be undertaken. 

The majority of county council members agreed if the municipalities wouldn’t sign mutual agreements on the various impact fee ordinances, they’d just drop the whole program. Their argument was that it wasn’t fair for folks building a new home in the county to pay certain fees that folks building a new home within the municipalities weren’t paying.

So, the county argument goes, it’s all about equity.

It’s not this simple of course. Some impact fees have been in place for several years – like the library impact fees which aren’t charged in the city of Beaufort or Port Royal because at one point, county was talking about moving the library headquarters on Scott Street out of the city and into a more central location.

The issue has come to a head, so to speak, when the County Council agreed last summer to a new impact fee for school construction, at the request of the school board, but just in the southern part of the county, the South of the Broad area.

The municipalities of Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Hardeeville (yes, Hardeeville which has annexed its way into Beaufort County by leaps and bounds) balked. And the school board – according to the County Council – didn’t do anything to help promote the idea. So here we are, gonna drop the whole idea.

Which is almost funny when you consider how many new homes have been built in the past decade that didn’t pay those particular impact fees. Funny unless you think of the tax dollars current homeowners did pay to provide additional services for not just schools but libraries, parks and recreation programs, fire services and road projects.

This discussion isn’t over. Will the municipalities “come to the table” in a reconciliation mood of “let’s all work together to figure this out?”

Will the concerned public come out at the next County Council meeting (April 25) to express their outrage?

Or will the crowd that rallied against a proposed donut drive-through on Lady’s Island sit this one out?

Stay tuned.

CCL challenging Hardeeville’s latest annexation move

HARDEEVILLE – While Beaufort County and municipal elected leaders debate how to make newcomers pay for the services they desire, the little towns to our north – Yemassee and Hardeeville – keep rolling their red carpets out to new development.

While Yemassee expands its boundaries farther into northern Beaufort County almost every month, the Hardeeville town council is currently considering an annexation request for 2,231 acres near Latitudes Margaritaville and Sun City.

The Karrh tract, as it’s called, is planned for 3,354 new homes plus 40 acres of commercial space.

The property in question happens to be in Jasper County but the developers obviously want a deal from the town of Hardeeville they don’t think the county will give them.

Over half the property acreage is considered wetlands and located at the headwaters of the New River, a cherished body of water that adheres to no political boundaries.

The Coastal Conservation League is speaking out against the annexation and the massive development. “Risky and environmentally destructive” is what they’re calling it.

Anyone who’s paddled on that river or just enjoyed the view driving along S.C. Highway 26 should feel the same. One more lovely wooded Lowcountry tract headed for annihilation.

Daufuskie ferry, fiscal autonomy highlight delegation meeting

BLUFFTON – It was nice to see Beaufort County’s legislative delegation – at least the state House portion of it – sit down together this week and ponder the business of the area.

The state Senators, that would be Tom Davis, Marjorie Bright-Matthews and Chip Campsen, weren’t present; they were in Columbia doing the work of the state Senate. Plus none of them are running for re-election this year.

The delegation meetings which are held periodically here in the county, can be interesting, if you like to watch government “at work.”

For example, the state Representatives were asked for their blessing by county officials to bless an effort to change legislation which would allow the Palmetto Breeze to take over the Daufuskie Island ferry service.

The county’s been struggling to provide public ferry service to the isolated barrier island for decades – just read Pat Conroy.

More recently, they’ve been looking for an embarkation point in the Hilton Head/Bluffton area to replace the existing, “temporary” location at Buckingham Landing. County officials told the delegation they’re looking at a $15 to $16 million answer to that question. They also reported tourism interest in Daufuskie continues to grow, drawing more than 100,000 visitors in the past year.

The county elected officials have obviously been talking about the problem in executive session – deals with property purchases and contractual matters – but bringing it to the feet of the delegation might help.

The delegation also heard a plea from two school board members, speaking as individuals, urging them to support the board’s efforts to gain fiscal autonomy from the County Council in setting taxes for their annual budget.

For newcomers, the push for fiscal autonomy by the school board, has been going on for decades and maybe, one day, just might happen.

The board members also asked for changes to public school hiring regulations which they argued have partially contributed to Beaufort County public schools currently having 260 qualified teaching vacancies.

Former attorney makes case for boat landing maintenance

BEAUFORT – It was nice to see an “old familiar face” in the Beaufort County Council chambers earlier this week.

Former County Attorney Ladson Howell was in the house, not to give free legal advice but to advocate for one of his passions – fishing, i.e. boat ramps.

Howell whose firm Howell, Hughes and Gibson served for years as outside legal counsel for the county, spends his time fishing now.

He made the trip to a council meeting to try to clarify questions raised by the county’s current in-house legal staff about legal title of some of the 25 county boat landings.

Because of prescriptive easements, the county does have legal title to all the landings, Howell said.

While he was there he added he’d like to see better maintenance by the county at those landings.

“You’ve got pot holes there so big I can’t back my trailer in there except at high tide,” he told the elected officials.

Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.

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