011118 Marlin Quay: County attorney says rezoning isn’t ‘taking’
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The owners of Gulfstream Café, left, oppose the new marina building.

Marlin Quay: County attorney says rezoning isn’t ‘taking’

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Claims that a zoning change to allow the rebuilding of a store and restaurant at Marlin Quay Marina amount to an unconstitutional “taking” of a neighboring restaurant are baseless, the Georgetown County attorney said this week.

Wesley Bryant gave County Council a briefing in executive session about potential litigation. Last month, an attorney for the Gulfstream Café put the county on notice that the restaurant would sue for damages if the zoning change is approved.

But Bryant said Gulfstream doesn’t have anything to take. The café has an easement to use the parking lot at the marina. “I don’t know how you can have a taking with an easement,” Bryant said. “Maybe they can come up with something.”

If they do, Bryant added, it would be hard for Gulfstream to show an economic impact based on the zoning change alone. “They would need to show an actual loss, not just conjecture,” he said.

Palmetto Industrial Development, owned by Mark Lawhon of Florence, is seeking to build a new store and restaurant. Gulfstream has twice appealed building permits issued for the project, claiming the building is a “major change” to the “planned development” zoning at Marlin Quay and should face a public hearing. Palmetto applied for a rezoning, although it disputed the need, and Gulfstream argued the change should be denied.

County Council gave the first of three readings to the rezoning this week. It was only a formality. Changes to the zoning ordinance don’t come up for discussion until the second reading.

But George Redman, an attorney for Gulfstream, used the council’s public comment period to argue against the change. “We fully support a marina store,” he told council. “It’s a shame one hasn’t been built before.”

Council Member Steve Goggans recused himself from that portion of the meeting. His firm SGA Architecture designed the proposed building, a fact that Gulfstream has highlighted in court filings.

The marina has a temporary office. After Palmetto demolished the old store and restaurant in 2016, Gulfstream filed suit and obtained a temporary injunction to halt construction. Palmetto filed suit alleging fraud by employees of the café whom it said encouraged the project before the demolition.

Redman said Gulfstream, owned by the Atlanta-based CentraArch group, is concerned that the new marina building will include an expanded restaurant that will take up spaces in the shared parking lot to which the café has an easement. “We don’t want to own a restaurant that doesn’t have any parking,” he said. “Look at the plans and draw your own conclusions.”

The Planning Commission approved the rezoning with a limit of 110 restaurant seats, the number that Lawhon said existed in the old facility. Redman said there were 74 seats before. “It’s better than nothing,” he said of the limit, but he pointed out that the proposed building totals 8,850 square feet. The original had 4,603 square feet. The county notes that the proposed building has 4,953 square feet of heated space. The remainder is porches and decks.

Redman said Gulfstream wouldn’t object if Palmetto rebuilt what existed before. County planning staff say that’s not possible. The old building didn’t comply with current federal flood regulations. The new one will be raised. The old building straddled a lot line with the Marlin Quay condos. The new one will be on marina property.

Connie Lowery, who owns two units at Marlin Quay, told the council she objects to the height of the proposed building, saying it will “overwhelm the area.” She said she and other owners are also concerned about noise from the proposed restaurant and bar.

Dan Stacy, the lawyer for Palmetto, told council members the board of the condominium owners association has approved the project. The plan also had approval from county staff, two votes from the Board of Zoning Appeals, a Circuit Court judge and the Planning Commission. He told the council he has never been involved in a project with that level of approval.

The rezoning is scheduled for second reading on Jan. 23.

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