By Kat Walsh
A packed crowd attended a Village of Port Royal Town Hall meeting on July 19 to hear details about the sale and development of the Port at Port Royal, an issue that has hung over the town for several years.
The potential developer, Grey Ghost Properties, is asking for several changes to the longstanding development agreements . Those changes require the approval of Town Council. Before moving forward, the council wanted to get input from the public.
“There are times, and this is one of them, where council needs your help,” Tom Klein, mayor pro tempor, wrote in the weekly Port Royal newsletter, saying that the council felt that the issues were important enough to delay the first reading of a proposed ordinance until they received feedback from the public.
“We want to listen to you and do the right thing that will keep Port Royal the place it is while making sure this redevelopment is done right and without regrets.”
The current plans call for a mixed use of open space, residences, commercial properties and more.
The changes to the Development Agreement on the July 19 agenda included the dry stack storage facility, changes in the property identified as Civic Open Space (COS) and a shrimp dock/parking lot land swap.
Dry stack storage
As written, the Development Agreement requires the old dry stack storage building to be removed. The developer has asked to keep the building and operate it once again as a dry stack facility.
This request includes additional time – five years – for the existing building to be aesthetically improved and re-opened.
If the building has not been improved in a manner that adheres to the general concept plan by Sept. 1, 2022, the facility would be closed and removed. Any future dry stack storage must be located only in areas south of the northern boundary of the Marina Village.
The request to re-open the facility is not new. In two of the previous attempts to purchase the property, there was talk regarding keeping the dry stack and making it operational again, however both of these requests were rejected by council.
The desire for the dry stack facility to be removed is an even older argument. In 2004 the town held a series of charettes that allowed residents and business owners to work collectively to define a “New Vision” for the port. Not once did that new vision include the dry stack facility.
“It’s been my understanding for 13 years that it was coming down,” said resident Kit Bruce, who participated in the charettes. “None of those groups included the dry stack in their plans. Everyone decided it was an eyesore that was out of scale.”
Bruce was one of many who spoke to the fact that the plan all along had been to get rid of the dry stack marina and that the building was not representative of the character or scale of the town.
“It is a very low value use on a very high-value piece of property,” said Dean Moss in a letter to council members. “We can understand why the developers want to keep it, but its continued presence is not in the interest of the citizens of Port Royal and it should go.”
The debate was not on the need for a dry stack facility. The majority agrees that one is needed. The discussion focused on the building itself. And there were many who spoke in favor of seeing the building stay.
Real estate developer Carl Joye and other residents pointed out that Port Royal is a boating community that could immediately benefit from the existing facility.
“It would bring in business and people,” said resident Patty Clark. “Keep it until there is another dry stack built.”
One of the developers agreed with many of the comments and concerns. “I live on Cat Island and look at the dry stack every day,” he said. “It’s not a pretty building.”
Civic Open Space
Drawing less support was the suggested land swap for civic open space. Currently, the town’s plan follows the 2009 vision of then-Gov. Mark Sanford and includes a10-acre parcel below the dry stack reserved for use as a COS.
Due to concerns of building along the marsh front along the left-hand side of Sands Beach Road heading towards the boat ramp, it was suggested that as an option the designated property be swapped with a corresponding amount of land along the left side of the road, thereby creating a linear park.
“I was stunned,” said resident Scott Graber of the proposed land swap. “Gov. Sanford was really passionate about a piece of land that was usable. The trade is 10 acres of good, hard ground for 7 or 8 acres of marsh that simply cannot be used.”
Other proposed changes
Other changes discussed included:
• The proper allocation of the $1.8 million in insurance money the town received from a fire that destroyed the fish market/processing building and closed Dockside restaurant.
• The shrimp dock-parking lot land swap. In return for allowing the town to use the shrimp dock and the rebuilt fish market/processing building, the town would give the Dockside parking lot to the developers.
Following the special meeting, four of the five council members voted to accept the first reading of the proposed changes (Tom Klein abstained), but not without reservations.
Council member Darryl Owens noted that going ahead with a first reading was not giving the developers a blank check. And Councilmember Mary Beth Heyward commented that “the citizens have spoken … I don’t think you’re going to get everything you want.”
The next step
“We cannot go back and take away all the bad decisions that were made by the (SC) Ports Authority,” said State Rep. Shannon Erikson, who lives in Beaufort. “I don’t think there is one right answer, but I know we have heart. And nothing would break my heart to see another sale not go through. It’s time to come together and close the deal.”
Chris Butler, owner of Butler Marina in Beaufort and one of the developers, understands the importance of this development deal.
“We want to make sure we do everything the right way. We’re not going to make everybody happy all the time, but in the big picture, the end result will be that the town was made better,” he said. “I want my children and grandchildren to be able to come here and not have to use a different last name.”
Visit portroyal.org for more information and the plans for the port.
Grey Ghost Properties will hold an Open House at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 27, at the Port of Port Royal. Developer Chris Butler said the goal is to “better explain our plans so that people will be better informed about what we are doing and what we are not doing.” Two more public hearings will be held at 6:30 p.m. Aug.2 and Aug. 9 at Town Hall.