Kiawah developers seek rule delay to build on Capt. Sam’s Spit

Developers continue to battle to build homes on Capt. Sam’s Spit in the vegetated high ground along Kiawah River.

A month after the state Supreme Court ruled against them, Kiawah Development Partners have returned to the state legislature to continue the fight to build a road across the spit’s narrow neck, in order to build 50 homes on Capt. Sam’s.

The spit is a wildlife-rich, 150-acre sand strip along Capt. Sam’s Inlet between Kiawah and Seabrook islands. It was left undeveloped while most of the rest of the island was built on, and is now one of the few undeveloped barrier island spits the public has ready access to because of adjacent Beachwalker Park.

KDP is asking the legislature to delay “grandfathering,” or fixing the current beach “setback” line at its current point, until it can be redrawn farther seaward to provide for newly accreted beach on the neck. The line is the point where property owners are severely restricted from developing any closer to the beach.

Under current rules, it has been periodically re-drawn to allow for erosion and accretion. The “grandfather” would keep the line from being redrawn to allow development any farther seaward.

Delaying the rule change is one of a number of battles KDP and conservation interests are waging in an ongoing legal and legislative campaign to build or prevent building on Capt. Sam’s.

Like other inlet areas, the spit is continually reshaped by waves and wind. Currently, it is eroding along the riverbank while the beach across the neck is gaining sand.

It’s prized for conservation and recreation because its cape beach is a feeding ground that at times draws seabirds by the thousands, and its inlet beaches are part of a rare strand-feeding ground, where dolphins drive schools of baitfish onto the beach and jump up after them to feed.

For KDP, it’s one of few remaining undeveloped beachfront properties left on the largely gated resort island. KDP has said building would take place along only 20 high-ground acres, and 85 percent of the spit is slated to be put under conservation easement.

The state Supreme Court in December ruled against granting a permit for a seawall and revetment for the access road. The court returned the case to the state Administrative Law Court, where it’s one of three lawsuits regarding the development with hearings pending, waiting for the high court’s decision.

A status conference hearing is scheduled with an administrative law judge next week to determine how to proceed with the three cases.

The controversy has become one of those high-profile Lowcountry disputes between property owners and conservationists over the “best use” of land along a changeable coastline.

Emails asking for comment from an attorney for KDP and the company’s attorney were not acknowledged or responded to by Friday evening.

“Why in the world would you want to build these homes, with no flood insurance and no guarantees, on an incredibly unstable piece of land,” said Katie Zimmerman, Coastal Conservation League program director.

The “grandfather” rule is among a number of proposed changes to coastal rules back before the S.C. Senate, after earlier proposals stalled last year.

The changes are the work of a panel and then an ad hoc committee of stakeholders that met for seven years total to propose new coastal rules, partly because legal challenges to the setback rule undermined its effectiveness.

After hearing from KDP, a Senate subcommittee Thursday unanimously approved the bill as it stood, moving the bill to the full Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. But the approval provided that amendments could still be made, said Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, the subcommittee chairman.

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