121417 Land use: Marlin Quay permit appeal back in court
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Storage units outside the temporary marina office. Gulfstream Café is across the parking lot.

Land use: Marlin Quay permit appeal back in court

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A Garden City restaurant owner says Georgetown County was wrong to issue a building permit for a construction of a restaurant on adjacent property without a requiring it to be reviewed as a zoning change. It’s an argument the Gulfstream Café has made before, and one a Circuit Court judge rejected.

In an appeal filed in Circuit Court this week, the Gulfstream Café also renews its complaint that County Council Member Steve Goggans, whose architectural firm worked on the project, used his position to influence the decision. But while his presence at a hearing prompted the first complaint, the current appeal says Goggans was “conspicuously absent” at the latest hearing.

Gulfstream Café, part of the Atlanta-based CentraArch group, appealed the county’s decision that construction of a new shop and restaurant at the adjacent Marlin Quay Marina is a minor change to the “planned development” zoning on the property. The Palmetto Industrial Development, whose principal is Mark Lawhon of Florence, wants to replace the 4,603-square-foot marina building it tore down in 2016.

The county issued a building permit for a new store in 2016. That was challenged by Gulfstream Café. After its appeal was rejected by the county Board of Zoning Appeals and Circuit Court Judge Ben Culbertson, the restaurant

asked the judge to reconsider. That request was still pending when Palmetto filed a new permit application this year.

There are two other civil suits pending between Gulfstream Café and Palmetto Industrial Development over the project.

Despite that, “again without notice, knowledge, or the consent of the Gulfstream Café, Palmetto formally submitted the [revised] plans to Georgetown County in an application for a building permit,” according to the appeal, filed by George Redman of the Bellamy law firm.

Gulfstream asked the county to rule that the plans are a major change to the planned development zoning at Marlin Quay, requiring a hearing before the Planning Commission and three readings by County Council.

“The County Attorney and the County Zoning Administrator refused to respond,” according to the appeal.

The county ordinance lists several conditions that could be considered a major change in a planned development, such as boundary changes, increases in density, uses and impact on adjoining property.

Gulfstream argues that the marina store and restaurant constitute a major change because the building will be larger, taller and take up more parking space, which is shared between the two businesses.

“The record evidence indicates the former snack bar occupied 1,957 square feet, and the new proposed restaurant would provide for over 5,000 square feet of usable space dedicated [to] the new restaurant,” according to the appeal. “The proposed plans essentially change a limited snack bar to a full service restaurant, create a new facility and an additional use within the PD,” according to the appeal.

That new restaurant would take up parking spaces that Gulfstream uses. The café argues that the previous arrangement allowed the marina shop to use parking spaces during the day and Gulfstream to use them at night.

Those arguments led County Attorney Wesley Bryant to tell the Board of Zoning Appeals at its hearing in November that the Gulfstream appeals are “an attempt to stifle competition.”

Redman said his client just wants the county to follow its ordinance. In the appeal filed this week, he says, “Comparing apples to apples, the proposed building would increase the square footage (both heated and unenclosed deck space) from 4,600 to more than 8,800.”

The fact that the county appeals board didn’t consider any of the Gulfstream Café’s arguments shows that its decision was arbitrary, according to the court filing. “The least nefarious view of the Board’s decision is that they simply rubber-stamped the Planning Director’s decision, without giving any consideration to Palmetto’s proposed plans,” it states.

As for Goggans’ role, even though he wasn’t at the latest appeals board hearing, the county staff’s decision was based on his involvement in the 2016 permit, Gulfstream argues.

At the November appeals board hearing, Redman called it “the appearance of impropriety.”

Tim Onions, who chairs the board, said “I’m not sure he asked them to do anything.” He challenged the accuracy of the statement.

Redman said he needed to get it into the record.

In the court filing, he argues that the record also shows the board approved the permit because it thought the project is popular in the community.

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