Conservation League opposes another development planned near Okatie River

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Conservation League opposes another development planned near Okatie River

By JOSH McCANN jmccann@islandpacket.com 843-706-8145
Published Friday, July 24, 2009 in The Island Packet  |  655 Words  |  news/local

Developers and environmentalists are squaring off over plans to build a "mixed-use neighborhood center" anchored by a hotel and national chain restaurant near the headwaters of the Okatie River.
Two companies applied in June for initial master plan approval to the Bluffton Planning Department for work at the intersection of U.S. 278 and Hampton Parkway.
Coastal Conservation League officials decry the plans because the project is so close to the river and is next to land Beaufort County has designated for a passive park.
The Village at Barrel Landing would sit directly between another planned shopping center, Buckwalter Commons, and the marshes of the river, which the state has declared an impaired waterway because pollution levels exceed state and federal standards.
The proposed land uses are permitted in a development agreement that governs what can be built in the Buckwalter area, the application states.
Staff members reviewed the plans, but neither Bluffton's planning commission nor town council has acted on those plans, planner Chris Record said.
The project was scheduled to go before the planning commission last month, but the applicants asked for the project to be removed from the agenda, Record said.
Record declined to say why the developers made the request.
The applicants are Parcel 9A, LLC and Parcel 9B, LLC. Gary Rowe of Bluffton, the registered agent for both companies, could not be reached for comment.
Plans accompanying the application show that the project would straddle Hampton Parkway and include:

  • A four-story, 120-room hotel
  • A three-story, 22,500-square-foot office building
  • A fast food restaurant, convenience store and gas station
  • Two restaurants
  • A restaurant/coffee shop
  • A 5,500-square-foot retail building.
    The project would feature designated golf cart parking, bike racks and marsh views from outdoor dining.
    It also would connect with Buckwalter Commons in as many as three places, according to the application. That center is planned by Crosland of Charlotte and would be anchored by a Harris Teeter grocery store. It received preliminary approval from town council in April.
    The Village at Barrel Landing's application repeatedly acknowledges the site's location relative to the river but pledges to protect it.
    "Due to the proximity of the site in relation to the headwaters of the Okatie River, special attention will also be given to the best-management practices for stormwater quantity/quality treatment and the control of pollutants resulting from the proposed development," such as petroleum projects from the proposed gas station, it states.
    Other maps in the application show wetlands in the middle of the project would be filled. The property owner for wetland permits, the application states.
    "The water quality of the receiving stream ... will not be degraded due to runoff from this development," it states.
    Andrea Malloy, project manager for the league's South Coast office, said development should not be permitted so close to the park land, which county officials bought with public money in 2004.
    "It's meant to be a natural setting," she said.
    Earlier this decade, Bluffton officials planned development in the Buckwalter area while the county was purchasing other land nearby to preserve it, Malloy said.
    "It would be nice if there was some more intergovernmental cooperation," she said.
    Malloy said the town could offer incentives to guide development away from such an environmentally sensitive area and toward places that are already paved and better suited to handle more dense building. She said the league would like to work with town officials and developers to to discuss doing that.
    She doesn't believe the developers can fulfill their promise not to harm water quality, and she worries about what could happen if man-made systems fail.
    "Some people believe you can engineer a solution," Malloy said. "I don't think they can perfectly replicate what's there right now."