No public money for private project Kiawah River financing plan denied by Charleston County

The Beach Co.’s controversial plan to pay for improvements to its private Kiawah River Plantation with future public tax dollars was shot down Thursday.

Grace Beahm

The Beach Co.’s controversial plan to pay for improvements to its private Kiawah River Plantation with future public tax dollars was shot down Thursday.

Charleston County Council’s Finance Committee voted unanimously against the financing plan for the upscale development on the southern end of Johns Island.

County Attorney Joe Dawson advised that the full council vote on the matter Tuesday. But council Chairman Teddie Pryor said he doesn’t expect the results to change.

Dawson said that means the plan to form a tax-increment financing district, known as a TIF, is dead, at least in its current form. But the plan could be reworked and brought back to council in the future, he said.

Beach Co. President John Darby has said the company needed the financial relief a TIF would bring to move forward with the development, which would have consisted largely of second and vacation homes. Such developments use fewer county services, Darby has said, but they take longer to get off the ground.

The special tax district would have paid for $82 million in roads, a sewer facility and other improvements to the property. Developers usually pay for those things themselves.

After the meeting Thursday, Darby said, “It’s been a long process. We would not have pursued the TIF if county staff hadn’t been so supportive and worked so hard on the project. We appreciate their efforts.”

“Council has voted,” Darby said. “We accept that. It’s time to move on.”

County Councilman Joe Qualey was opposed to the plan, which faced massive resistance from the public. “It’s particularly gratifying that the vote was unanimous and that the hundreds and hundreds of people who spoke out were heard not just by me but by everybody,” Qualey said.

West Ashley resident Susan Nial attended the meeting to show her opposition to such plans, which she called “socialism for billionaires.”

“You don’t want to give grandma a sandwich,” she said, “but you would give $82 million to these guys.”

Councilman Elliott Summey, a developer who initially supported continuing to consider the plan, said he wasn’t bothered by the outcome. “It’s not something the county will live and die by,” he said. “The majority has spoken.”

County Council first voted 6-3 against taking the first of several steps forward toward approving the plan. Summey, Pryor and Vic Rawl voted for the plan. The group then voted unanimously to drop the matter.

Rawl at first wanted to continue moving forward so he could hear more the Charleston County School District and other groups that would give up tax dollars. “I’m not as elitist as some of my brethren,” he said referring to other council members who wanted to stop the process.

Jake Libaire, a project manager for the Coastal Conservation League and an opponent of the financing plan, said he’s pleased with the vote. “9-0,” Libaire said. “To reverse a unanimous decision would require elaborate explanations.”

Before the group voted, Colin Cuskley, executive director of the Johns Island Conservancy, made a 30-minute presentation to council on behalf of the project’s many opponents.

Cuskley said the plan didn’t meet the state’s legal requirements, and was bad from both a policy and financial standpoint.

At the end of his presentation, Cuskley encouraged council members to “Vote no. Vote now.” Apparently, they heard him.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.