November 5, 2020

Stephen Fastenau

Developers appeal decision rejecting Bay Point Island resort, may head to court

A group seeking to develop a luxury resort on Bay Point Island has appealed a Beaufort County decision denying the plans.

Bay Point Island LLC will appeal a county zoning board order from September denying a special permit for a resort on the island, which is south of St. Helena Island and across Port Royal Sound from Hilton Head Island. The group is also requesting mediation before an appeal goes to court, papers filed in Beaufort County court on Wednesday show.

The Zoning Board of Appeals on Sept. 24 rejected a request for a permit that would have allowed the resort as a special ecotourism use under current zoning.

Bay Point representatives want to sit down with county officials in the coming months to try to agree on acceptable plans before the appeal goes to circuit court, a spokesman for the project said. A county spokesman could not immediately provide a comment on the filing Thursday morning.

“We continue to believe the project will be beneficial to Beaufort County and the state of South Carolina, and we hope that we will have the opportunity to prove that,” Hilton Head attorney Tom Taylor said.

Plans for the resort that would encompass about 50 acres of the mostly vacant island were widely opposed by local nonprofit organizations like Beaufort County Open Land Trust and Port Royal Sound Foundation, environmental groups and numerous elected officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham.

“We fully anticipated the Bay Point developers would appeal the Zoning Board’s denial,” the Coastal Conservation League said in a statement Thursday. “We continue to oppose the proposed resort project and will do our part to ensure the County’s well-informed decision is upheld.”

The S.C. Environmental Law Project also pushed back against the appeal.

“The developer’s challenge to a unanimous vote from the zoning board ignores the reality of our eroding shoreline and tramples over the sentiments of tens of thousands of individuals, including members of the Gullah/Geechee nation, as well as elected officials such as Senator Chip Campsen, Governor McMaster and a broad coalition of environmental groups,” the organization said in a statement. “We continue our vehement opposition to this project and we are prepared to protect Bay Point from this senseless development with whatever legal means necessary.”

The island owners and potential developers had pitched plans to build dozens of villas, a spa and restaurants as an environmentally friendly project by luxury hotel operator Six Senses that would be sensitive to wildlife and more attractive than waterfront mansions. But they balked at a county request for a conservation easement to keep from building on the remaining lots, asking instead that 25 of 40 lots remain for possible single-family homes.

In a written decision, the zoning board said developers failed to show how plans were compatible with the county’s comprehensive plan, how they would fit the character of nearby St. Helena Island and didn’t adequately show how the project would minimize effects on the environment, traffic, infrastructure and public services.

Developers also didn’t show how resort operators would incorporate educational opportunities, wildlife viewing and cultural experiences necessary to meet ecotourism requirements, the decision signed by board vice chairman Kevin Mack in October said.

Those concerns can be addressed individually in mediation, Taylor said. He said the group had met with county staff for more than a year to work out issues and that the zoning board had erred in rejecting the permit based on public opinion.

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