Vote on Beaufort County SC proposed land swap was delayed

The Beaufort County Council did not vote Monday night on a proposed land swap to build a library near Sun City, but that doesn’t mean the idea is dead, it’s just working on alternatives.

“We’re still working with them [the Rural and Critical Board],” Chairman Joe Passiment said. “They don’t want this swap as it was proposed. That doesn’t mean we can’t do a land swap. We’re just not going to do this one.”

Beaufort County wanted to build a library and ball fields on land protected under the Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program off 170 near Sun City and offered two county-owned parcels in exchange.

In particular, the county wanted two plots of land — the Evergreen Tract and New Leaf Parcel B — which were both purchased, along with New Leaf Parcel A, in February 2016 and added to the Rural and Critical inventory. In exchange, the county is offering Camp St. Mary’s a former catholic camp on the Okatie River and about 10 acres of land off of Bluffton Parkway next to Eagle’s field.

The Rural and Critical board balked at the land swap earlier this month, saying it did not make sense to take land out of the protection program, and recommended against the land swap.

When the county staff first presented the resolution to the council, before the Rural and Critical board had even been presented with the swap, there was a sense of urgency, with County Administrator Eric Greenway pushing for the vote before newly elected council members could be sworn in . But, now that the land board has reviewed and unanimously rejected the land swap, the county has hit the brakes.

Passiment took the proposal off the County Council’s Monday night agenda to give county staff time to develop alternatives.

“We are still taking a look at the properties to see what can be accomplished,” the chair said.

County staff is gathering feedback, information and comments, county spokesman Chris Ophardt said, to give the council the chance to consider different versions of a he swap. Ophardt said the county is hoping to have it on the agenda for the first council meeting of February.

One alternative often floated by assistant administrator Chuck Atkins is to swap the Evergreen Tract, where the county wants the library, for Camp St. Mary’s only. The council Vice Chair Larry McElynn mentioned the need for the library Monday night, making this alternative seem likely to be presented.

Camp St. Mary’s, a property many on the council have said is deserving of being protected, makes for a strong bargaining chip for the county, especially in exchange for just the Evergreen tract, where stormwater infrastructure has already been developed by the county.

Camp St.  Mary's. jpg
One of the properties the county is offering in the swap is Camp St. Mary’s, a former Catholic camp off of the Okatie River. Sebastian Lee

The board turned down the swap for two reasons:

The land being offered was not equal in conservation value to the land the county wanted.

The Rural and Critical board felt the swap could undermine the public’s trust in the land protection program.

The council can vote to approve, deny or amend the swap when it comes back to them next month. If the council decides to amend, it would not have to be presented to the land board again before being passed, because the board has already given its recommendation, which is non-binding.

The swap, though, will face heavy scrutiny, needing a super majority of eight votes to pass, which means if more than three council members vote no, it will fail.

Freshman councilwoman Paula Brown already said she would not be voting in favor of the swap at the Rural and Critical board’s January meeting and told the Island Packet she was ready to vote against it Monday night as well.

this story was originally published January 24, 2023 12:30 PM.