Coastal Management

Pine Island

On behalf of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, we are seeking to intervene in a developer's appeal of the Beaufort County Planning Commission's decision to deny its request to construct three golf courses in conjunction with a gated community resort on St. Helena Island. SCELP is committed to advocating on behalf of the Gullah/Geechee people and culture.
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The Issue

In late 2022, Pine Island Property Holdings, LLC, despite not owning any property on Pine Island, began pursuing plans to develop a gated resort and golf course. Developments of these kind are specifically prohibited under the County’s long-established Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) District. The developer finally purchased Pine Island in March of 2023, well after it began initiating various legal tactics to sidestep the clear prohibitions of the CPO.

The CPO was created in 1999 to protect the Gullah/Geechee people, culture and resources on St. Helena Island and has been successful in protecting St. Helena Island from gentrification and the loss of Gullah/Geechee culture and land. There is abundant evidence for how this kind of development has devastating effects on other Sea Islands along our coast, like Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands. SCELP and our partners have been hard at work these past few months to uphold the CPO and to stop this harmful development.

The Legal Battle

Since 2022, the developer has sought to get around the protections of the CPO and build a gated golf club resort despite an explicit prohibition on these uses.

To circumvent these protections, the developer subdivided the property into three separate but contiguous parcels, and then pursued a request for approval to construct three 6-hole golf courses on these parcels. The Beaufort County Planning Commission unanimously rejected the developer’s requests at their June 5 meeting.

The developer also asked for the entire property to be rezoned and removed from the boundaries of the CPO. On June 12, the County Council Community Services and Land Use Committee voted 6-1 to deny the developer’s rezoning request.

On June 26, the Beaufort County Council voted 8-2 against the special exception and in support of maintaining the integrity of St. Helena’s CPO zoning.

On July 5, Pine Island Property Holdings LLC filed an appeal in Circuit Court to challenge the Beaufort County Planning Commission’s denial of plans for 3, 6-hole golf courses on Pine Island. The appeal also includes a request for pre-litigation mediation.

On August 3, on behalf of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, we filed a Motion to Intervene seeking to uphold the Beaufort County Planning Commission’s denials based on the CPO zoning ordinance. The Penn Center, Coastal Conservation League and individual landowners also filed separate motions seeking to intervene. While these motions were filed separately, they represent coordinated effort among multiple partners to continue to stand behind the St. Helena community.

A hearing on the motions to intervene was held on August 29. On Friday, September 1, the Beaufort County Circuit Court granted the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition's intervention.

We are glad that the court agreed The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition has a substantial interest in the outcome of the Planning Commission appeal that warrants intervention.


The CPO was created in the late 1990s to protect the Gullah/Geechee people and cultural resources of St. Helena Island. The St. Helena community could not abide the same development pattern as other South Carolina sea islands, like nearby Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands, which has resulted in the ousting of most of the Gullah/Geechee people.

The CPO zoning district bans golf courses, gated communities, resorts, and restrictions to waterways and culturally significant locations on St. Helena Island. The Beaufort County 2040 Comprehensive Plan highlights how the overlay prevents gentrification and the loss of Gullah/Geechee culture and land. See the whole CPO here.

St. Helena Island, St. Helenaville and Pine Island

St. Helena Island is a 64-square mile island located in Beaufort County, sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast by sea islands Harbor, Hunting, Fripp, and Pritchards. Pine Island and St. Helenaville are located on the northern end of the island, bordering St. Helena Sound. The island is widely known as the center of Gullah/Geechee culture, and many families own land on the narrow roads criss-crossing the island. Learn more about St. Helena Island.

Decades ago, the St. Helena community made clear that its vision for the island's future was a place where generations of Gullah/Geechee families could continue to sustain their rich farming, hunting, and fishing culture. This vision does not include golf courses, gated communities, and resort developments, which threaten to destroy the cultural way of life for this community, as has occurred on Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands.

Golf courses, gated communities, and resort developments directly threaten the heritage of the people who live in this important sea island community, which is why these uses have been prohibited by the CPO since its inception in the 1990s. It is also why St. Helena has Beaufort County’s most notable concentration of Gullah/Geechee land ownership today. Learn more about Pine Island.

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