South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Developers get a shot to argue luxury resort on SC barrier island is ‘ecotourism’
February 27th, 2020

By Emily Williams, Post & Courier

The developers behind a luxury resort proposed for a South Carolina barrier island have another chance to prove their plans qualify as “ecotourism.”

Under their vision, Bay Point Island — an undeveloped island northeast of Hilton Head in Beaufort County — would house what they’ve described as a high-end “ecoresort,” accessible by boat or aircraft only.

But in December, Beaufort County staff said that the development shouldn’t be allowed; it didn’t meet the definition of “ecotourism” since, in their view, the plans put resort-type activities as the primary use, and sustainability and ecological promotion were secondary.

Environmental groups that oppose the development, like the Coastal Conservation League, applauded the decision. Their primary argument against the resort is its location: barrier islands vulnerable to erosion are no place for a new resort, they said.

Island co-owner Tim Pitcher said in a statement that he was “surprised and disappointed,” and described the decision as being “in bad faith” since it was handed down before owners had formally submitted plans to the county.

Developers appealed the staff’s decision, and a zoning board is scheduled to hear that request today.

Ahead of the review, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project filed a motion on behalf of the Gullah Geechee Fishing Association, asking to intervene in the review.

The waters around Bay Point are a historic fishing ground for Gullah-Geechee residents on nearby St. Helena Island. In its motion, the association argues that the resort plans would threaten that.

“Increased boat traffic to ferry the resort passengers to the island will damage the available fish population in and around Port Royal Sound and an exclusive resort will undoubtedly restrict the association’s members’ ability to access the areas required to sustain the seafood industry,” the motion states.

The island’s owners have said that they would not interfere with access for fishing. They also expressed interest in doing business with local fishers, though the Gullah-Geechee association has said it isn’t interested.

In response to their motion, another was filed on behalf of the Bay Point Island developers, asking that any evidence or testimony beyond county staff and the developers be excluded.

Today’s meeting could have several outcomes. The board could defer the request and hear it at a later date, which may be likely given the recently-filed motions and the importance of this decision for the developers’ project.

If the board does review it, they could uphold county staff’s decision which would continue to stall the development. The board could also overturn that decision, advancing the Bay Point Island resort in the approval process.

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