August 5, 2008

Extension for Lady’s Island PUD Could Set Precedent

By Jeremy Hsieh, The Beaufort Gazette, S.C.

Aug. 5--The developers behind the Greenheath community on Lady's Island want extra time to build it before their zoning expires in 2010, a request the head of the Beaufort County Planning Commission expects from other long-dormant planned unit developments in the near future.

With an eye on the precedent Greenheath could set, the commission voted 7-0 on Monday to recommend a 10-year extension on its 98-acre zoning along with conditions laid out by the planning staff. The most significant condition was that the developers work with the county to address the impact on neighboring Coosa Elementary School, which is well over its enrollment capacity.

At least two other dormant planned unit developments, or PUDs, are in the same boat as Greenheath: the planned 1,320-home Burlington Plantation on the banks of the Broad River and The Village at Lady's Island, commission Chairman Jim Hicks said.

Lawyer David Tedder, who is representing developer Fred Trask, told the commission that the developer had owned the property for some time and waited for Coosa Elementary and infrastructure such as water and sewer to come along. Now, "current market forces have inhibited construction," according to a staff report on the project.

Hicks said he was wary of dormant PUDs approved before impact fees were established sidestepping them and swallowing up public infrastructure money. Impact fees are a tool that local governments use to offset the cost of building public infrastructure associated new development. In Beaufort County, new development is subject to fixed impact fees for fire protection, libraries, parks and roads. Tedder said his client was amenable to paying fair impact fees.

Greenheath was approved as a PUD in 1997, though the present vision for a neighborhood design came around 2003, Tedder told the commission. Greenheath is slated for 313 homes and 25,000 square feet of commercial space off of Brickyard Point Road near Fiddler Road.

Greenheath met the conditions exempting it from sunset clauses in county regulations until 2004, when the Beaufort County Council revised exemption conditions. Instead of an indefinite window for development, the entire project had to be completed by Jan. 1, 2010, prompting the developers' current extension request.

Planning director Tony Criscitiello said the rationale behind the update of the sunset clauses dealt with the wide range in quality of PUDs that had been approved before standards were updated in 1999.

"Greenheath (was) pretty far along in the learning curve. Others were just a sheet of paper," Criscitiello said.

Planned unit developments are tailored zoning designations crafted for specific projects. Developers often propose them to circumvent the limitations of standard zoning rules. The particulars of each PUD are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and their approvals are often paired with development agreements that lay out alternate fees and guarantee certain building conditions.

The agreements give county and school officials room to negotiate for fees or other requirements.

School district spokesman John Williams said Coosa Elementary had an enrollment of 641 students last year, though it was built in 1998 for 550 students. The school's 10 portable classrooms have helped address crowding, and a plan to send its fifth-graders to Lady's Island Middle School in the 2009 school year will also help relieve crowding by about 100 students, though enrollment projections are fuzzy.

"It's nearly impossible to predict the growth rate now with the depressed real estate market, but with Lady's Island still being a highly desirable area," Williams said.

School board member Jim Bequette, who represents Lady's Island, said he was glad the planning commission had kept the school in mind.

"As long as the county stands up and says they've got to satisfy us, at least that's a leg up," Bequette said.

Last year, the school board and County Council came up with a policy to charge developers $6,000 fee per home and $2.50 per square foot of commercial development built under development agreements.

A long-term plan to build a new elementary school on Lady's Island is also in the works. The last school bond referendum included money to buy land for a new school, though not its construction.

The next stop for the developer's request is the Beaufort County Council's Land Management Committee.


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