The Beach Co.’s controversial plan to use $82 million in future public tax dollars for its private Kiawah River Plantation development was expected to either take its first step forward this week or be shot down. Now it’s possible neither will happen.
Why wait on the Kiawah River Plantation plan vote?County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said the wait would allow:The Charleston County School District and other taxing entities to have more time to study how the plan would affect them.The county to possibly work out arrangements to allow a handful of residents who live near Kiawah River along Mullet Hall Road to hook up to the development’s sewer system. Beach Co. President John Darby stated in a letter Tuesday that postponing the vote would:“Allow all interested parties the opportunity to continue their research and consider the TIF on a more informed basis.”“Be helpful to resolve any and all issues pertaining to the proposed sewer facility.” And it would allow the county to “have a clear direction for the adjacent property owners’ ability to connect and benefit from this sewer facility.”
Charleston County Council’s Finance Committee was scheduled to take the first of several required votes Thursday, but Chairman Teddie Pryor removed the vote from the agenda. Pryor’s decision follows a Beach Co. presentation last week, for which many opponents, but no supporters, showed up.
Critics of the Beach Co.’s plan said they think Pryor, who has said he possibly could support the plan, is trying to delay the vote because it likely would fail. But Pryor said that any council member could make a motion to put the vote back on the agenda at the start of Thursday’s meeting.
Pryor said he wants to postpone the vote to give the Charleston County School District and other groups who are being asked to give up future tax dollars to finance the improvements to the upscale development on the southern end of Johns Island more time to consider the plan. And, he said, with more time, the county possibly could work out arrangements to allow a handful of residents who live near Kiawah River along Mullet Hall Road to hook up to the development’s sewer system. Those residents have septic tanks.
Beach Co. President John Darby also has asked that the vote be postponed, echoing the same reasons in a letter he had hand-delivered to Pryor on Tuesday.
Darby said that the company’s presentation to County Council last week didn’t go as well as he had hoped. Council members had expressed concern about whether the other groups had had enough time to consider the proposal, residents had had an opportunity to comment publicly and some residents could use the development’s sewer system. There are concerns, Darby said, “so let’s hit the pause button. Let’s get it resolved.”
Mulling it over
School board member John Barter, one of three members of a special committee studying the plan’s impact on the school district, said he didn’t ask Pryor for more time to consider it. And he said his committee will make a presentation on the plan to the full school board on May 15.
The plan, known as a tax-increment financing district or TIF, would pay for roads, a sewer facility and other improvements to the Kiawah River property with future tax dollars the development would generate.
The school board is being asked to give up the most — $63 million in future tax revenue over the next 25 years.
Three other groups would give up tax revenue for the next 40 years. The county would forgo $8.9 million, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission $5.2 million and the St. Johns Fire District would agree to give up $4.5 million.
“I’m not going to go into who said what,” Pryor said. And, he added, he wants opponents to know that shooting down the TIF plan won’t prevent the Beach Co. from building Kiawah River Plantation. “If anybody thinks there’s not going to be a development, they’re wrong,” Pryor said.
Dragging it out?
County Councilman Joe Qualey said he thinks the vote should go forward Thursday as planned. “Something of this magnitude, that will go on for this long, that is of critical importance to Charleston County taxpayers, shouldn’t be controlled by the whim of one person,” Qualey said, referring to Pryor deciding the group wouldn’t vote as planned.
Pryor is dragging out this decision as some council members did the decision to complete Interstate 526, Qualey said. That project had pros and cons. But the TIF, he said, “is 526 without the pros.”
Councilman Dickie Schweers, who also is opposed the TIF plan, said he’s ready to vote Thursday. State law makes the county the gatekeeper of this particular TIF decision, he said. If County Council votes against it, it’s done and the other taxing entities don’t have to vote. “We have the authority to vote it down, right now and it ends,” Schweers said.
Darby said he and others at his company have been working with the county on the development and financing plans for Kiawah River for the past five years. The TIF always was part of the plan, and council members had been made aware of that, he said.
And the financial help it would bring is necessary for the development that will include mostly second and vacation homes. Such developments have less impact on county services, Darby said, but they are slower to get off the ground. The TIF, he said, “will enable us to build what the public wants.
Thursday’s meeting will include a 30-minute presentation by Colin Cuskley from the Johns Island Conservancy. Cuskley represents people who oppose the plan.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.