By Bo Petersen
KIAWAH ISLAND — The new developer of this resort island is working with the town of Kiawah Island to extend and expand a development agreement that sets the rules for what can be built where.
The proposed agreement would continue to allow homes to be built on fragile Capt. Sam’s Spit and would open 20 acres to development in the Freshfields Village shopping center tract. The center and those acres would be annexed into the town. The adjacent Cassique golf community might be too, in the future.
Capt. Sam’s is an exposed, narrow-necked sandscape at Kiawah Island’s western edge that includes critical wildlife habitat and has been a treasure for generations of people along the coast.
The former developers planned to build 50 homes in the sand dunes in the heart of the spit; residents and others who frequent the spit oppose it. The company was sold to Charlotte-based Kiawah Partners this year, and the new owners are pursuing the plan and accompanying legal battles.
Freshfields and Cassique are across the Kiawah River from the spit.
The proposed annexation concerns at least some island residents and locals wary of stretching the town’s footprint “across the river.” The town held a public information meeting this week and has scheduled a more formal public hearing for Oct. 30.
“Expanding Kiawah beyond its current island borders has the potential of changing the fundamental character of the town,” said Marilyn Larach, Kiawah Island Property Owners Group president, in a posting on the website for the group, considered a residents’ watchdog. “It makes sense to step back and double check our assumptions with some objective outside experts before we take the leap.”
The property owners’ group has hired the South Carolina Environmental Law Project law group to help stop an access road from being built to Capt. Sam’s Spit. A court hearing on whether the attorney has standing in the case in scheduled for Monday.
The town of Kiawah Island approached the company about annexing the property, said Mayor Charles Lipuma. The town does not levy a property tax, but the center would be worth an estimated $790,000 per year in assorted business taxes and fees. Annexation also would give the town zoning authority over development there, he said.
“We wanted to do what we could to protect our property values and our quality of life,” Lipuma said. Emails he has received largely favor the move, he said. “I think there is just a small group of people who are adverse to change.”
Mike Touhill, of Kiawah Partners, said the company wasn’t seeking the Cassique annexation currently, but both annexations are “something (the town) would strongly benefit from and have wanted to happen for some time.”
Extending the annexation agreement made sense for the company as a way to best manage the remaining undeveloped real estate on the island, he said.
Meanwhile, the company is looking for a “strategic partner” to take over the shopping center while the company develops the 20 acres, Touhill said. The terms of partnership have not been negotiated yet, Touhill said, and he could not immediately say if the shopping center would be sold outright.
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