Zoning change will turn sewer plant into gold
A zoning change that will replace a water treatment plant with two residential lots will generate an estimated $1.9 million that will help fund future renourishment on the southern end of Litchfield Beach.
But neighbors say that the plan, which was recommended for approval by the Georgetown County Planning Commission last week, will spoil the character of their gated community without providing any benefits.
“It will have a definite impact on our view,” said Don DuBose, who has owned property on the creek at Inlet Point South since 1996. He was told at the time that “there will never be a house built on that lot.”
The property is within Inlet Point South, which has 26 single-family lots, but is owned by the Peninsula at Inlet Point Owners Association, a development of 33 lots whose owners also belong to the Inlet Point South Homeowners Association. The Peninsula completed a beach renourishment project in front of its property last year.
The Peninsula was developed by the Litchfield Co. within the federal Coastal Barrier Resources System, where federal funds can’t be spent for development. The area had its own water and sewer plant.
In 2021, the Peninsula association asked to connect to the Georgetown County Water and Sewer District. The sewer treatment changed over that fall and the water the following spring. In December, the association sought a change to the area’s “planned development” zoning to allow it to create two quarter-acre lots on the .87 acres treatment plant site.
“It became what amounts to surplus property,” said Dan Stacy, the attorney representing the Peninsula. “It would allow them to replenish their working capital, frankly, which they spent to get rid of the sewer plant.”
The Peninsula also used the property as collateral on a $510,000 loan it received in September from Leo Wallace, who owns a house in the Peninsula.
A presentation prepared by the Inlet Point South board last month, a copy of which was provided to the Observer, said the Peninsula association had an appraisal that put the value of the new lots at $1.9 million. “Excess proceeds would be used for Peninsula reserves, primarily for future beach projects and beach monitoring,” it said.
The presentation listed pros and cons, and suggested that the property could also be used for green space or other amenities. It adjoins a parcel that has a community pool for Inlet Point South.
The Inlet Point South board also considered buying the property from the Peninsula, but decided that wasn’t feasible because of the $300,000 assessment placed on Peninsula lots to pay for last year’s beach renourishment.
It said that the Peninsula board agreed not to sell the new lots before August to give the Inlet Point South board time to consider alternatives.
Property owners in Inlet Point South said in letters to the commission that their objections haven’t been considered because Peninsula property owners form a majority of their association’s board. Both associations sent letters, dated June 2022, supporting the proposed change.
“The Inlet Point South board wrote a letter of no objection and confirmed that as recently as last week,” Stacy told the commission.
But Adam Jones, a member of that board, said in an email the day before the commission held a public hearing on the request that the letter of support “is a mischaracterization of my personal viewpoint of the deliberations that took place.”
Jones said the letter from the board was the result of “an informal email exchange” and that “I was not expecting that my email reply would be the basis for this letter’s inclusion in this application.”
There was no formal vote and no community input before the letter was sent, Jones said.
“There is no benefit whatsoever to the Inlet Point South Community of additional development on this property, as all of the benefits and proceeds will go to another organization,” Jones added.
Christopher Lee, who serves on both associations and signed the letter as president of the Inlet Point South board, said in an email to the commission that he supports the change.
“It seems logical that removing an unsightly water treatment plant and chain link fencing and replacing them with two nice homes would only increase property values and enhance the neighborhood,” he said.
Stacy told the commission that any houses built on the lots will be subject to the development’s restrictive covenants that cover design and landscaping. Referring to opponents, he added, “about 18 months ago, your home was beside an active sewer treatment plant, and now it’s not.”
“It’s not as easy as Mr. Stacy says it is,” Wade Mullins, a Columbia attorney, whose family owns property in Inlet Point South, told the commission. He also represents Ray Tanner, the athletics director at the University of South Carolina, who owns a house across the street from the proposed lots.
“Mr. Tanner bought that house with the understanding that the development was planned and that there was not going to be a house directly across from him that destroyed the view of the ocean that he’s got. If you approve this, you will absolutely eliminate any view of the ocean that those that are across the street there have,” he told the commission.
Mullins also said the ownership of the treatment plant property is in doubt because a plat was not recorded with the deed. The tax notices from the county go to the Inlet Point South association not the Peninsula association.
“You do not know what you are approving,” Mullins said. “It’s an absolute mess.”
He said there is a dispute between the two associations and urged the county to “move carefully.”
DuBose, whose house is two down from Tanner’s, said he would be glad to see the treatment plant removed. “But, I feel like there was a bit of untruth,” he said.
Stacy said the amendments to planned developments are not unusual. “Things do change,” he said.
Commission member Marla Hamby asked about the impact on the neighbors’ views and property values
“I would speculate that looking at a $2 million house versus and active sewer plant would not be a negative. I would suggest it will probably affect his value. Mr. Tanner could have bought an oceanfront lot if an ocean view is very important to him. He chose to buy on the creek,” Stacy said.
He added that there are already houses on the oceanfront that also block the view from the Tanner house.
The commission voted 4-2 to recommend County Council approve the change. Hamby and commission member Zannie Graham were opposed.
The request now goes to County Council for three readings.