The Charleston County Council approved a development agreement with the Beach Company for Kiawah River Plantation (KRP) in December 2009. The KRP development is part of a 2,000 acre property, formerly known as Mullet Hall and commonly still referred to by that name. Ocean Boulevard Properties, a Beach Company subsidiary, is shown as the owner of the parcel (id #2120000001).   The 2009 agreement defines the KRP development to be 1,427 acres of the old Mullet Hall property. The other 570 acres are part of the Kiawah River salt marsh. The new development property adjoins the County Park’s Mullet Hall equestrian center which is a separate property but was once also part of the original nineteenth century plantation.   460 acres of KRP is in the County’s Urban Growth Zone and had already been zoned R-4, which permits one residence per quarter acre. Another 810 acres is in the rural area and was zoned AG8, an agricultural preservation district allowing one house per 8 acres. The final 157 acres is in a Ocean Coastal Resource Management district (OCRM) where construction is not permitted. (1,427 acres total. See Development Agreement p7)   The KRP development agreement with the county allowed the combination of the two residential and agricultural zoning densities. The Beach Company plans to build 1,285 homes on the property overall; 580 will be in the AG8 zone that would otherwise have allowed only 100 homes to be built. In addition, the agreement allows 450 “guest rooms” which may be in “villas” with one or more bedrooms (each “villa” counts as only one “guest room”). Up to 80,000 square feet of commercial space and two golf courses may also be built. (See Development Agreement p15)   The 2009 development agreement stretches the boundaries of dense development on the border of the County’s rural area on Johns Island. However, given that the 450 acre R-4 section could have allowed up to 1,800 homes to be built in that area anyway, the compromises made in the development agreement could be seen as reasonable. In addition, the Beach Company made commitments to maintain some green space, to limit the building of docks on the marsh and to build sewage treatment facilities.   More recently, in the spring of 2012, the Beach Company applied to the County Council for public financing of KRP’s infrastructure in the form of Tax Increment Financing bonds commonly known as TIF. The 2009 agreement allows the owner of KRP to develop it as private property with a generous interpretation of the existing zoning regulations. The additional request for the County to provide TIF financing raises many other issues.  

Why is this an issue for the Johns Island Conservancy?

The Conservancy was founded in part to research local conservation and devlopment issues.   So studying the Kiawah River Plantation development agreement and TIF proposal seemed an appropriate task for us.   The Conservancy became even more interested when Beach Company President John Darby, writing publicly to a member of County Council in September, stated that South Carolina law allows TIFs for “conservation” areas.   While state law does include that as one provision, it struck us as odd that anyone would refer to a plan to put 1,650 houses and villas, two golf courses and 80,000 square feet of commercial space on 1,287 acres of prime, undeveloped land as a “conservation” project.   As the Conservancy looked more closely into the questions surrounding tax increment financing and this particular project, we saw a complex intersection of issues. With the rise of the Internet and the turmoil it has caused traditional journalism, our local news media often lacks the resources to explore these kinds of issues in depth.   So the Conservancy decided to research the project and TIF laws thoroughly and educate the public about this development and “conservation” project.   In November, the Conservancy began working with award winning Charleston journalist Dan Conover to study the topic. The resulting collaboration between Conover and Conservancy Executive Director Colin Cuskley produced an overview of the topic based on multiple source-documents and extended interviews.   There are also numerous background documents which are linked to throughout the report.   Here’s the PDF version of our report.