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Trask appeals county’s Dunkin’ Donuts decision 

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 ‘It doesn’t matter what the rules are, what the law is in the code.’ 

 By Tony Kukulich 

Developer Graham Trask has appealed the county’s decision to deny his permit request that, if approved, would bring a Dunkin’ Donuts with drive-thru service to Lady’s Island. 

“I followed the rules,” Trask said. “I gave everything objectively to the county. Due to political pressure, they did not follow their own rules. They basically are saying that it’s OK if we don’t follow our own rules because a mob came out and said, ‘We’re against the Dunkin’ Donuts.’ That’s how they justified denying my special use (permit).” 

The Beaufort County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBOA) denied Trask’s request for a special use permit for construction planned for 131 Sea Island Parkway during its Feb. 24 meeting. During that meeting, board members heard from a number of Lady’s Island residents, most of whom opposed the initiative on the basis of the traffic it would bring to the area. Public opinion appeared to have weighed heavily in the board decision. 

“The ZBOA’s responsibility is to take into account all of the information presented, including the public comments,” wrote ZBOA Chair Kevin Mack to Trask in a letter dated March 18. “The board have heard from the local community with 941 signing a petition opposing the drive-thru restaurant, 177 emails opposing the drive-thru restaurant, one (1) in favor and a large number of people who have shown up at this and previous meetings opposing the drive-thru restaurant. There are a few supporting it, but the majority is definitely opposed to it.”

In an interview with The Island News, Trask contested the board’s deference to public opinion when his project, he contended, met the county’s requirements for approval.

“Basically what it says is that it doesn’t matter what rules are, what the law is in the code,” he said. “If enough people, in their opinion, make noise, then that’s enough to deny a special use permit.”

Beaufort County Public Information Officer Chris Ophardt said the county stands by the ZBOA’s decision and will support its case in court.

Public opinion wasn’t Trask’s only obstacle. A county staff report presented by Robert Merchant, Beaufort County Planning and Zoning director, recommended denial of the special use permit despite having recommended approval as recently as two weeks prior to the ZBOA meeting.

Pressed for an explanation on what caused the county to reverse their position, Merchant said direction from the County Council indicated that changes to the ordinances governing businesses with drive-thru services were imminent. Trask’s business, the county argued, would not be compliant with the expected changes.

The County Council did, in fact, pass new ordinances during its March 28 meeting. The changes are aimed at reducing traffic backing up out of businesses into roadways as commonly seen along Boundary Street in the City of Beaufort. According to a press release issued by the county, the new regulations mirror those recently enacted in the city.

“This gives us a little bit of an opportunity to be more selective in who gets to do what, where with drive-thrus,” District 2 Councilmember Paul Sommerville said in a county press release. “I do not think there is anybody in this county who hasn’t run into a backed-up situation on an arterial road with somebody waiting to get a cup of caffeine and sugar. I am glad it is happening.”

Trask argued that the new zoning changes will exacerbate the problem with drive-thru traffic, which, he said, is indicative of demand for drive-thru opportunities outpacing the supply.

“You need more drive-thrus because the current drive-thrus are overwhelmed,” he said. “What you’re doing is, by these zoning changes, actually contributing to the problem that you ostensibly say you want to solve.”

Trask’s appeal was filed with the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas. It requests that the matter be remanded to the ZBOA and also seeks an award for attorney’s fees and other costs related to the filing of the appeal. A hearing date has not yet been set.

“We’ve got pretty high confidence that he’s not going to prevail here,” said Chuck Newton with the Sea Island Coalition, a grassroots organization that opposed the project. “This thing was done by the books. It’s pretty clear the ZBOA had good grounds for their decision – a sound basis for it. ZBOA’s have quite a bit of latitude in their decisions, and the courts have tended to back it up. We’re pretty confident that it will be upheld.”

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at 

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