Patriots Point board spurns land plan

MOUNT PLEASANT -- The Patriots Point Development Authority rejected an idea Wednesday to develop most of the 367 acres it owns, including a golf course, and instead decided to focus on 36 acres it owns around its ticket office to help raise money to pay for expensive refurbishment of its aging naval vessels.

The board of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum voted unanimously not to pursue a highest- and best-use master plan by design firm AECOM that called for up to 3,000 homes, a high-end hotel and a retail center to be built on the leased-out, 220-acre golf course and surrounding land.

The board also decided not to connect the golf course property with a road to the Bay View subdivision, which lies across a marshy creek and whose residents opposed developing the tract.

The board also voted not to pursue a transfer of conservation easements on the golf course and a sizable wooded tract adjacent to it, and it agreed that consideration of any future development outside of the 36 acres between the ticket office and Patriots Point Road would be fully vetted through the public.

Board Chairman Ray Chandler set the vote in motion to dispel misconceptions about the board's intentions.

"I've heard that there are secret back-room deals that we are a party to ... to try to work our way out of financial problems by selling the golf course, getting rid of the conservation easements and developing the whole thing with 50 units per acre," Chandler said.

"That's the misconception. We need to clear the air."

Chandler said he was opposed to developing the property without an easement, and argued that the board should embrace another plan.

Vice Chairman Wayne Adams agreed that the board has no intentions of building 3,000 homes on the site, but he didn't want to close the door on the easement issue completely.

"I don't think we should give up thinking about moving the easements," he said. "I don't want to say no way, no how and 10 years from now we find a way and go back on our word."

Board member and Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails said there was no way he could support developing the golf course, adding that the move would have a difficult time clearing the town's land-use hurdles.

"No one on my council has an appetite to change that zoning," he said. "I am not going to vote to take that conservation easement off."

Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette said he was open to other ideas because it is his job to steer the tourist attraction through the heady financial waters it faces.

"I don't see a way to pay for our ships other than to use our land," he told the board.

The facility will turn a small profit on its current $9 million spending plan, which runs through June, and expects to be about $153,000 in the black at the end of its next budget cycle in June 2012.

But it is staring at some monumental hurdles, such as payback of a $9.2 million loan from the state to repair the storied destroyer Laffey, and possibly up to $100 million to refurbish another World War II vessel, the aircraft carrier Yorktown.

The hulking centerpiece of Patriots Point is slowly rusting in the 27 feet of mud it's moored in.

"If the golf course isn't making any money, then I don't want to cut any options off," board member Susan Marlowe said.

The board's chairman left the door open to other possibilities in the future.

"To turn away from alternatives would be negligence on our part," Chandler said.

For now, he said, Patriots Point should turn its attention to 36 acres that aren't under a lease or easement.

A conceptual plan calls for the 36-acre parcel to become Patriots Village, including a hotel, museum, visitors center, gift shop and restaurants, but the board agreed only to focus on the site. It did not lay out a course of action.