Johns Island Conservancy report critical of Kiawah River development
A controversial plan to pay for improvements to the Beach Co.’s Kiawah River Plantation development isn’t in the best interest of Johns Island or the rest of Charleston County, according to a recently released report from a local environmental organization.
The Johns Island Conservancy produced the eight-page report to educate the public about the proposed financing plan for the development, known as a tax-increment financing district, or TIF, said Colin Cuskley, the group’s executive director. But County Councilman Elliott Summey, who supports the plan, said Kiawah River eventually would bring in a lot of property tax money to the county. And the county only would reimburse the company for improvements — such as roads and a sewage treatment facility — if the development brought in enough additional tax revenue to cover the cost of them.
A TIF pays for improvements to a development with future tax revenue it will generate.
County Council soon will decide whether to approve the plan, under which the Beach Co. would be reimbursed for about $85 million in property improvements. Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said staffers are working on a report on the plan, and will make a presentation to council when the presentation is complete.
Beach Co. officials Friday said they had not yet read the report and so couldn’t comment on it.
Cuskley said his nonprofit organization isn’t opposed to the Beach Co. developing its 2,000-acre property on the southern end of Johns Island. It’s opposed to the financing plan. TIFs should be reserved for projects that are in the best interest of the public, he said. Promoting a high-end, exclusive development doesn’t meet that criteria.
He also questioned whether the development legally met the criteria to qualify for public assistance. “We’re not anti-development,” Cuskley said. “We just want to see it done intelligently.”
Summey, a developer, said, “TIFs, in general, are not bad things. With a TIF, a developer eats what he kills.”
The Beach Co. can’t launch the project without the financial benefits the TIF would provide, Summey said. But if the development is built as planned, it would bring in a lot of money, and it would provide other perks for residents of Johns Island, he said.
For instance, Kiawah River would have its own sewage treatment facility, so residents who live near the development could connect to it. Many rural residents would find that useful, Summey said. “The highest and best use for that real estate isn’t a farm, not for the taxpayers of Charleston County.”