Kiawah River Plantation financing plan close to a vote

Charleston County Council will hear a presentation April 25 and will likely vote in early May on the Beach Co.’s proposal to develop 2,000 acres it owns on the Kiawah River. The Johns Island development would comprise high-end homes, a hotel and a golf course. Buy this photo

A controversial financing plan for the Beach Co.’s high-end Kiawah River Plantation development is poised at the starting line and will face its first official hurdle early next month.

What’s next

Here are the next steps for the Kiawah River Plantation TIF:

April 25: The Beach Co. and a consultant will make a presentation on the plan to Charleston County Council.

May 2: County Council’s Finance Committee will vote on whether to move forward with the plan.

May 7: The full council will vote on whether to proceed, if it was approved by the Finance Committee.

If the full council approves the plan, council must schedule a public hearing and give the other groups that would forgo tax revenue a 45-day notice of the hearing. Those groups are the Charleston County School District, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission and the St. Johns Fire District. The groups then can submit comments before the public hearing.

County Council then would have to pass an ordinance with three readings for the plan to be final.

The company has asked Charleston County to approve a special tax district to pay for more than $84 million in improvements to the 2,000-acre property on the southern end of Johns Island. Company representatives have said the plan would help them get the project off the ground, which, in turn, would spark the local economy.

Opponents call the plan a subsidy for a developer.

County Council will hear a presentation on the project April 25, then will vote May 7 on whether to move forward with it. Even if County Council approves the plan that day, it still has several more hurdles to jump before the deal is complete.

County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said he’s not yet sure whether he supports the plan. He’s going to wait until after the presentation by the Beach Co. and a consultant from the group Municap before he decides how he will vote.

Municap is a public finance consulting firm that has conducted research for the county on the impact of the 45-year plan. The Beach Co. covered the cost of most its services.

Councilman Dickie Schweers, who is opposed to the plan, said the financial arrangement could raise concerns about the objectivity of the consultant’s work. “Consultants usually know who’s paying them.” he said.

Kevin O’Neill, vice president of Beach Development, said the company is paying for the consulting services because county staff members didn’t have the expertise to evaluate the company’s proposal. He also said the county chose Municap, and that The Beach Co. had no input into which consultant would be hired.

The financing plan the county is considering approving for Kiawah River is known as a tax-increment financing district, or TIF. It would pay for improvements to the property, such as roads, expanded fire services and a sewage treatment facility, with future tax revenue the development would generate.

Three other taxing entities also would have to give up future tax revenue for the project to move forward. They are the Charleston County School District, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission and St. Johns Fire District. The largest share of the money, about $63 million, would come from the school district.

O’Neill has said the financing plan wouldn’t be a burden to county taxpayers because there would be no property tax revenue if the development is not built.

He also said that so far all of the taxing entities that would have to give up revenue “are open to taking a good, hard look at the plan to see how they would benefit” in the future.

Eric Britton, chairman of the St. Johns Fire District Commission, said his group is reconsidering participating in the plan.

He also said Municap is working with the commission to help it make an informed decision. The Beach Co. is paying Municap for that work.

Schweers said he thinks that the county considering a plan that in effect would give the Beach Co. the go-ahead for the development of about 1,200 high-end homes, a hotel and a golf course sets a “dangerous and irresponsible precedent.”

It means county taxpayers would be vested in residential development, and that other developers will seek similar arrangements from the county.

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