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Beaufort County Council voted last month to buy and preserve the 87-acre Garvey Hall tract in Bluffton's New Riverside area.
Five weeks later, the county is still trying to close the deal, and a sign indicating the land will instead be sold at auction has cropped up on the property.
County officials and staff members at Beaufort County Open Land Trust described the $785,000 price tag as a good deal for taxpayers and a good use of the Rural and Critical Lands program's money. A Dec. 10 county press release even described plans for a passive park or new trail on the land off S.C. 170, near the Jasper County line. A small section of it runs along the New River.
Garrett Budds of the Open Land Trust has refused to answer questions about Garvey Hall over the past three weeks. On Wednesday, he again declined, referring questions to county attorney Josh Gruber.
"The county is engaged in active negotiations to purchase the Garvey Hall tract," Gruber said. "We have not gotten the property under contract as of yet, but we will be providing status updates to County Council as the negotiations continue."
County records show the tract is owned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which reclaimed the property for $1.7 million in a September foreclosure auction.
Rumors have been circulating since before Christmas that the deal was in jeopardy.
An FDIC spokeswoman suggested Jan. 3. that more than one party was vying for the property.
"The FDIC can confirm that a sale is pending on the land located in Bluffton, S.C.," LaJuan Williams-Young wrote in a Jan. 3 email. "However, until the transaction is final, we are unable to disclose the names of the bidders or their bid amounts."
Attempts Wednesday to reach Williams-Young for an update were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, signs on the property indicate the tract will be sold at auction March 2. Calls this week to auctioneer Hudson & Marshall were not returned.
County Council heard an update on the deal Monday in a closed session. Councilman Jerry Stewart, whose district includes Garvey Hall, said he couldn't discuss what was said behind closed doors.
Michael Hahn, a Bluffton-area Realtor who owns 11.25 adjacent acres on the market for $885,000, said he's heard the rumors about the property. He wants the land preserved as open space or a public park.
"As a Beaufort County taxpayer, I would like to see my tax dollars support the purchases of these distressed assets at steep discounts," he said. "The last owner paid $4 million in 2006. The FDIC had this tract on the market for $785,000."
Bluffton annexed the Garvey Hall tract about four years ago, and plans were in place to build 68 homes there. However, the housing market crashed soon after, and the property remained undeveloped.