By Lolita Huckaby
PORT ROYAL – It’s been a long time coming but maybe … just maybe … development of the 300-plus acres that used to be the Port of Port Royal appears close to happening.
Since 2017 when the current property owners Grey Ghost Properties (GGP) bought the shuttered port facility for $9 million from the state, the town has been working with the owners to develop a comprehensive “marina village” on the banks of Battery Creek – a “village” that includes the current dry-stack storage facility, the former port terminal building, the current Fishcamp restaurant and open space for more than 500 dwelling units.
The planned unit development, or PUD, approved by the town council in 2017 also includes commercial space and a 300-slip marina.
While the town has been putting pressure on GGP to live up to timelines established in the PUD agreement, apparently a buy-out has been in the works. And the potential buyer, based on wording in the agreement changes given a first-reading vote of approval last week by the town council, is “SH,” LLC, or Safe Harbor Marinas.
Sources close to the pending buyout have confirmed Safe Harbor Marinas, a national marina operations company which leases Beaufort’s Downtown Marina and owns Port Royal Landings and Skull Creek Marina on Hilton Head Island as well as more than 100 other marinas. Safe Harbor was purchased in October 2020 by Sun Communities, a real estate investment trust.
And based on discussion at Monday night’s Municipal Planning Commission, where commissioners were asked to approve the proposed PUD changes, the deal appears imminent.
“Time is of the essence,” said Whit Suber, project developer for the current owners.
While the commissioners appeared reluctant to give their approval to the proposed PUD changes because of a lack of detailed information, attorneys for the potential buyer initially offered to delay the decision until a workshop could be scheduled.
But after conferring and realizing that the Town Council is already slated to review the document for a second and final reading at the next meeting July 7, the parties opted to push for a workshop – and special meeting – to consider a decision.
Commissioner Wendy Zara, a Port Royal resident just appointed to the board, raised a number of specific questions about the changes, saying there were “just too many blank spaces” in the document.
Commission Chairman Mike Tomy, agreed.
“I think we all agree we want something to happen here, but it’s a pretty big deal not just to us but to the community,” he said.
The agreement allows for 575 residences to be built as single family homes and in multi-story buildings. The development already has state and federal Army Corps permits for a marina with 220 boat slips but Suber pointed out that number was based on mega-yachts. The actual number of slips might be closer to 300 if the marina was marketed for “smaller” boats.
Zara stressed that the new PUD changes needed to make it clear there could not be construction of another dry-stack storage facility on the property. The existing dry-stack which is in operation, has been a source of concern for town residents who consider it unsightly and not in compliance with landscape requirements in the original development agreement.
The Commissioners agreed to a special meeting Friday afternoon, time to be determined, to further discuss the PUD changes and possibly come up with a recommendation for the town council.
The Council can still accept the PUD changes, without the MPC’s blessings.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Above: Graffiti, decaying concrete and rusted buildings are all that’s left of the old Port of Port Royal. Reports indicate sale of the port may be imminent. Photo by Bob Sofaly.