Beach Company president defends Kiawah River Plantation development plan
Beach Co. President John Darby says Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey was being disingenuous and didn't present all the facts when he proposed voting against a controversial plan to pay for improvements to the Kiawah River Plantation development.
In a letter delivered Wednesday to Qualey, Darby also questioned others who have opposed his company's plan, including the Coastal Conservation League's director and members of the St. Johns Fire District Commission.
Qualey last week asked council's Finance Committee to vote against a proposed tax increment finance district, or TIF, for improvements, such as roads, expanded fire service and a sewer plant, for the Beach Co.'s high-end development on the southern end of Johns Island.
Qualey's motion didn't pass, so it won't be considered by the full council.
A TIF pays for improvements to a development with future tax revenue it will generate.
County staffers are in the process of developing a financial plan, as well as a plan to build and manage a sewer plant for the 2,000-acre development. They are expected to bring the plan to council for approval in the next few months.
Qualey said he didn't have time Wednesday to examine Darby's eight-page letter, and he doesn't want to comment on it. He said he proposed voting down the TIF plan last week simply because he hadn't heard any of his constituents say they supported it.
It didn't make sense for county staff members to continue developing a financial plan and a plan for the sewer facility if the TIF didn't have enough support, he said.
But, Qualey said, other council members didn't support his motion, and he can accept that. He will review the final proposal when county staffers bring it to council a few months from now.
In his letter, Darby asked Qualey, who is a lawyer, “As a successful trial lawyer, do you think it would be appropriate for the judge or jury to reach a verdict before hearing the true facts of the case?” And he called Qualey's actions “reckless and irresponsible.”
Darby also questioned whether Qualey had contacted enough officials on Kiawah and Seabrook islands to determine if there was support for the TIF. Darby said Seabrook Mayor Bill Holtz told him that he hadn't been contacted by Qualey.
Darby also said that the Kiawah River development should have the financial relief a TIF would bring because it eventually would add a lot of property tax revenue to the county.
Now, Kiawah River pays about $3,000 per year in taxes, he said. But in 20 years, if development proceeds as planned, it would generate nearly $14 million, and in 30 years it would bring in about $15.4 million.
Darby also raised concerns in his letter that while the Coastal Conservation League was on board when the Beach Co. developed a master plan for Kiawah River, it now opposes a TIF to help the plan get off the ground.
Dana Beach, the league's director, said he didn't know about the TIF plan when the league weighed in on the property's master plan.
And he thinks that if developments need that kind of subsidy to get off the ground, perhaps they shouldn't be built. “It's giving the developer money to build his development,” Beach said.
Darby also said the St. Johns Fire District Commission's vote against the TIF last month was an attempt to “ambush the Kiawah River Plantation project.” That group didn't specifically list Kiawah River on its agenda, he said. And he thinks it was required to wait until after County Council approved the plan. Then it would have had 45 days to vote on it.
Commissioners voted to reject the proposal because they estimated that it would pass on about $20 million to area island taxpayers over 20 years.
Kiawah River officials will make a presentation on the TIF Monday to the Charleston County School Board. Board Chairman Chris Fraser has said the TIF would take $63 million in tax revenue from the school district over the next 45 years.
School board members will have to determine if benefits the TIF could bring in would outweigh its costs.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.