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Yemassee, Port Royal special this time

BEAUFORT – All Beaufort County voters can go to the polls next week, Nov. 2, to vote for … or against … a local option sales tax and a revision in the county government structure. 

But Port Royal and Yemassee residents are special – they have council races on their ballots and in the case of Yemassee, a vote for mayor. 

Of course, in Yemassee, the current mayor Colin Moore doesn’t have any competition on the ballot as he seeks a second term, BUT it’s a six-way race for two council seats. And you can tell by driving through the town and seeing a plethora of campaign signs at almost every corner. 

The six candidates – Trena Ellis, Natasha N. Greene, Robert “Bobby” Moore, David Paul Murray, Stacy Pinckney and Darrell Russell – are running for the two seats now held by Charlie Simmons and Michelle Hagen, who aren’t running again. 

Since Yemassee is a town divided – half in Beaufort County, half in Hampton – some of the residents will get to vote on that local option sale tax and the change in county government to allow appointment, rather than election of the county treasurer and auditor. 

It’s not like the Hampton side of town didn’t try last year to become part of Beaufort County by annexation. A petition was circulated and signed by about 140 residents, but the Governor’s office decided the signatures hadn’t been verified and the effort has remained stalled since then. 

Interest in the running for town council comes at a time when the municipality bordering I-95 is considered “ripe” with growth potential, with two exits and a narrowing proximity to Savannah’s industrial sites. 

And the same can be said for Port Royal, where two of the four council seats are on the ballot. Incumbents Mary Beth Heyward and Darryl Owens are running for re-election against political newcomers John Hazel and Eddie Gugino. 

Port Royal faces some interesting times ahead, with the growth of all the apartment complexes and the pending sale of the Port of Port Royal to Safe Harbor Marinas, rumored to take place within the next few weeks. 

There’s a much-debated and approved development master plan for the property but it’s a sure bet there will be issues to resolve once the paperwork is completed and the actual development begins. The winners of next Tuesday’s election may have a major say in how those issues are handled although the future of the property never seemed to become a major campaign topic.

Local, off-year elections off result in low-voter turnout. But as always, every vote counts especially when big development changes are knocking at the door.

Congratulations Rob Merchant

BEAUFORT – A recent promotion that seems to have slipped through the media reports is the recent appointment of Rob Merchant to the county’s Planning Director position.

Merchant, who was serving as both Deputy and Interim Planning Director (wonder if he got two paychecks?) since Eric Greenway took the County Administrator position.

Merchant has been with the county since 1999 and in that time has seen a lot of design plans cross his desk. Most recently he and other members of the staff, working with consultants, navigated passage of the county’s state-required comprehensive development plan “Envision Beaufort County 2040” which wasn’t an easy task considering COVID restrictions.

The County Council has blessed the Plan with two of the three necessary votes of approval – unanimous votes – and is on track for final adoption well before the end of the year.

Good luck to Merchant … and all his stalwart planners.

Could it be true – fresh donuts coming to the island?

LADY’S ISLAND – If you get a chance Thursday afternoon, around 5 p.m. AND you have nothing else to do AND you care about Lady’s Island, you might want to tune into the county Zoning Board of Appeals.

They’re scheduled to hear a request from Graham Trask for some variances to build a new home for what is reported to be … DUNKIN DONUTS!

Yes, a donut franchise is finally coming to “the islands,” and based on what you can see at the Boundary Street location, during the drive-to-work hours, it’s bound to be a success … IF it gets built.

The proposed location is 131 Sea Island Parkway, across the street from Bill’s Liquors and adjacent to the Garrett Dry Cleaning and U-Haul business. Is there a much busier location on the Parkway?

The Sea Island Coastal Coalition thinks not and is concerned about the potential impact on traffic, which as most people who drive over there know, is already undesirable.

Trask needs a special use variance to build a “restaurant” in that neighborhood commercial district, a variance to build outside the parcel’s build-to boundaries and a special use variance for a drive-through window.

The SCCC points out all this as the county works on a road improvement plan which will hopefully address the future impacts of developments in the area like Whitehall and the new Harris Teeter, if it ever gets built.

The Board of Appeals meeting is available on the County Channel live or on demand by visiting the county’s website.

Dining updates

BEAUFORT – On the other side of town, The Island News Editor Mike McCombs reported last week we might be in store for the area’s first Cook Out, a N.C.-based fast food restaurant that may be moving into the former Golden Corral on Robert Smalls Parkway. 

And of course, a new Wendy’s is emerging from the ground on Trask Parkway, to replace the “old” Wendy’s at 2234 Boundary which is closed.

The city, working with the county and the Open Land Trust, agreed to pay $525,000 for the Wendy’s property in 2020, making it part of the Boundary Street linear open-space park.

The park project will include the former United Way building, now temporary home to the county engineering department, and may feature a small welcome center, according to OLT plans for the area.

It will make a lovely spot to go eat your fast-food lunch and contemplate what was once Battery Saxton, a Union defense earthworks built to secure the town.

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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