Contested Pinckney Point development hits a roadblock

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Contested Pinckney Point development hits a roadblock

By LIZ MITCHELL lmitchell@islandpacket.com 843-706-8169
Published Tuesday, January 8, 2008 in The Beaufort Gazette  |  717 Words  |  local_news

BLUFFTON -- The future of a development that's raised a lot of hackles over one of Beaufort County's pristine areas is at a standstill until the courts rule on a variety of road-related issues.
Neighbors and environmentalists fiercely oppose more homes and docks on the peninsula between the Okatie and Colleton rivers just west of Rose Hill plantation and north of U.S. 278.
Pinckney Point LLC, a Florida-based developer, wants to build 76 homes -- the maximum rural zoning will allow -- plus seven community docks and up to 70 boat slips.
Disagreements between the county and the developer have landed the project in court, where a judge or jury ruling could decide the development's fate.
One of the biggest points of contention has been access to the property where the development would be built.
The first issue is that Pinckney Colony Road, which leads back to the proposed development, was built 50 years ago. The road doesn't comply with existing county ordinances.
The width of the road is between 20 and 25 feet. The county ordinance says it should be 50 feet wide. But the path the road takes now wouldn't allow for the additional width.
So the developer suggested moving about 88 percent of the road away from the rivers, which would also better serve the property, according to the developers.
County officials responded that the existing road was adequate for the proposed subdivision, according to Beaufort County Zoning Board of Appeals minutes. But the developer said the property couldn't be built out at the density authorized under county ordinances with the road in its current condition.
"The road doesn't have to be moved (to build the development the way the developer wants it), but in order to put in the size of the development they want, they needed a different kind of road," said Thomas Gasparini, Beaufort County Zoning Board of Appeals chairman.
If a new road were allowed, the developer promised to plant trees and other vegetation where the old road and use pervious pavement on the new road, which would reduce runoff into the rivers.
In September, the developer asked the Beaufort County Zoning Board of Appeals if it could move forward and start work on the new road, but the board denied the request in a 3-2 vote.
So in November, the developer filed a lawsuit appealing the decision.
Walter Nester of McNair Law Firm, who represented the developer at the meeting, said the board never gave a reason for the denial.
"If they don't allow you to use property as zoned, it's a condemnation," Nester said. "It's really unfair to the applicant; they aren't asking for anything other than by right."
Another issue is whether Pinckney Colony Road is even owned by the county.
Last year, the county filed a "declaratory judgment action," which asked the courts to decide who owns the road. The case is still in a preliminary phase, perhaps six months away from being scheduled for a hearing in court.
The case stems from neighbors opposed to the development in Pinckney Colony getting involved. In fall 2005, David Pinckney erected fence posts in the dirt road leading to the home of his cousin, John Pinckney.
The posts were meant to thwart development because they reduced the road's width. The posts were later removed.
County Attorney Robert Achurch said the county -- not the neighbors -- owns the road because the county has maintained it for more than 20 years.
"If the county is maintaining that road and we left those posts, it would be a liability," Achurch said. "That was creating a safety hazard."
The county reached a settlement with the Pinckney family, which lives along the road, and removed the posts. However, ownership of the road is still in question.
If the county does own the road, it will continue to maintain it. If it doesn't own the road, then Achurch doesn't know how that would affect the proposed development.
"The good part is that's not something the county needs to be concerned with," he said. "It may well have an impact on the development at the end of that road, but the county doesn't make decisions based on that."