By Mindy Lucas
In a 4-2 vote held Monday, Sept. 22, members of the Metropolitan Planning Commission denied plans for a major subdivision to be built on the property known as Whitehall.
Unlike its August meeting in which the commission took over four hours to discuss the project before tabling the discussion, it took only a matter of minutes Monday night to proceed with a motion to vote.
Approval of the project had been held up for most of the year – previously by the developer who asked to remove its consideration from earlier MPC meetings citing a desire to have the public weigh in at an in-person meeting.
The pandemic has prevented those types of meetings and area municipalities have been holding virtual meetings while residents and members of the public have weighed in online, through email and social media.
Recent plans presented by the developer, Sam Levin, showed a mix of retail and approximately 200 residential units on 10.1 acres. The site is zoned for mixed use.
The other half of the original site, or remaining 10 acres, was sold to Beaufort County in 2018, and the county has since moved forward with its plans to develop a public park.
Commission Member Judy Alling who made the motion to deny the project at Monday’s meeting said the reasons for the commission’s difficulty to make a decision had “become quite clear.”
Alling called into question whether the site plan reflected the intent of the county’s zoning code adding that the site should be an extension of Bay Street and “large apartment buildings” were not part of Bay Street.
She also maintained, as she did in August, that the traffic study the commission had asked for had not been updated properly.
Commission member Bill Bardenwerper said he and other members wished that the “village looking plan” with mixed uses previously presented in 2018 was still on the table.
“Because it was the kind of plan that …I think that a lot of the public was willing to overlook traffic considerations,” he said.
He went on to say, however, that it was his legal opinion that the commission was not entitled to exercise authority it didn’t have.
“I wish that the Beaufort Code gave the MPC design authority in our zoning cases… but it simply does not,” he said.
Ultimately the motion to deny the project passed with Alling, Mike Tomy, James Crower and Caroline Fermin voting in favor to deny the project. Bardenwerper and Jason Hincher voted against the motion.
Reached by phone for comment about the MPC’s decision, Whitehall developer Sam Levin would only say that he planned to “move forward” and that he preferred not to comment on meetings.