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Bluffton probably won't let developers of Garvey Hall build more densely if their land is annexed, a town planning official says.
"We're not interested in talking about increased density over what the county would allow," said Planning Commission chairman Donald Blair said.
Mayor Hank Johnston, however, isn't ruling out allowing more density, but added that the land along May River Road would be better managed if it were part of the town.
On Wednesday, the town Planning Commission recommended annexing the 98-acre Garvey Hall tract, with the number of houses and other details of the project to be negotiated by town officials this month. The land is now part of unincorporated Beaufort County, which allows three houses per acre -- about 33 lots. The developers want 92 residential lots.
The town Planning Commission recommended that the land be designated a "planned unit development," or PUD, which would have a range of densities and uses -- as long as the developers get town approval.
Even if the town allowed an increase in the number of houses, Mayor Johnston said, the development would be more environmentally sound than if it were developed under county jurisdiction. For example, he said, the Garvey Hall land would be subject to more stringent stormwater ordinances under the town.
"It could well be the 100 homes they're asking for could be better constructed as a part of the town," Johnston said.
Under the PUD designation, the town could require developers to connect homes to the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority's sewer system, rather than having septic tanks, Johnston said. The property is near the New River, so it's important to limit septic tanks in the area, he said, which might not happen if the land were developed under county rules.
"There are tradeoffs" between the town and developers "to get the best environmental protection," he said.
Moreover, he said the town could require a $6,000 per unit fee if the homes were built under Bluffton's jurisdiction.
"That's $600,000 for schools right there," Johnston said.
Blair said the building density the town ultimately approves for the land will depend on how much developers are willing to negotiate.
Bluffton planning officials consider PUD a "special kind of zoning that allows flexibility in development," he said, adding that the town "expects something in return."
A plan for the 98 acres will go before the town's Development Agreement Negotiating Committee in the coming weeks. A specific date for this meeting has not yet been set. Johnston, Blair and town council member Lisa Sulka sit on this committee, Blair said.