Will Bay Point Island in Beaufort County be developed?

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Bay Point Island – Image courtesy of The Post and Courier

An interesting development vs. environment saga has been transpiring in Beaufort County for the last few years. In 2016, the town council of Hilton Head voted to accept an application for the annexation of Bay Point Island, a vulnerable barrier island at the mouth of Port Royal sound. But two storms and the knowledge of the historical and ecological significance of the island caused the council to back away, and the island has remained largely untouched.

The island currently has no infrastructure and is only accessible by boat or air.

The island is a refuge for thousands of shorebirds and seabirds and the home of other wildlife, including threatened sea turtles. It also protects fragile marshland and water rich in fish and other marine life. Beaufort County has designated Bay Point a “T1 Natural Preserve”, the county’s most restrictive rural zoning designation.

The county development code states this designation is “intended to preserve areas that contain sensitive habitats, open space and limited agricultural uses. This Zone typically does not contain buildings; however, single-family dwellings, small civic buildings or interpretive centers may be located within this zone.”

A Bangkok, Thailand resort developer seeks to build and operate on Bay Point Island fifty beach bungalows, four spa and wellness centers, several restaurants and areas for listening to music and watching movies.

The developers submitted a special use application for “ecotourism”, but Beaufort County’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied this application on September 24. That denial is being appealed. 

An interesting new development is the entry of The Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association into the dispute. The South Carolina Environmental Law Project issued a press release on November 27 announcing the Association has filed a motion to intervene in the appeal.

According to the press release, the Association seeks to intervene because the livelihoods of its members will be impacted by the development. For generations, the Association’s members have relied on the marshes, beaches and waters surrounding Bay Point to harvest fish and shellfish which support their businesses and their families.

Opponents of the development include Governor Henry McMaster. Environmentalists argue that the damage from the resort would extend beyond the island to the nearby marshes which would be threatened with increased chemical, storm water and septic runoff.  

Ecotourism permits in Beaufort County have been granted for oyster farms, flower farms and kayak operators. This resort development would be a huge leap from those environmentally friendly uses, according to the development’s opponents.

Dear History, please stop repeating yourself!

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Hurricane Irma is the third disaster in two years for South Carolina

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Hurricane Irma is the third disaster to pummel our beloved state since this blog was launched in 2014. After the 1,000 year flood in October of 2015, Hurricane Matthew struck in October of 2016. Rebuilding is not complete from either catastrophe.

On my way to work this morning, I passed the remains of several businesses that were destroyed when Gills Creek flooded in 2015. Thankfully, I heard recently that Richland County is about to purchase those properties to turn them into green spaces. Other areas in and around Columbia are still in the rebuilding process or have been completely abandoned. Many homeowners have made their homes bigger, stronger and certainly taller. Others have given up and moved away.

Enter Irma. A friend joked on Facebook that we’re lucky here in South Carolina Irma passed us by. You would never know it passed us by from the many feet of water we’re seeing in pictures of Charleston, Beaufort, Hilton Head, Georgetown, Garden City and surrounding areas. And the pictures and video coming from Florida and the Caribbean, not to mention the pictures and video coming from the Hurricane Harvey disaster in Texas and Louisiana, all show unspeakable damage.

Our company’s home office is located in Jacksonville where surrounding streets are under water. Employees with power are trying to work remotely. Others are out of commission.

A wise man in our building here in Columbia said to me this morning that these disasters bring out the best and the worst in folks. There are looters, but there are many more heroes who have rescued their neighbors in boats. There are neighborhoods without power who are gathering in their streets for impromptu block parties. Chainsaws are chopping downed trees. Supplies and helping hands are being donated. Celebrities and charities are raising millions. I’d like to believe that we’re seeing much more good than bad in people.

Our hearts are breaking for those who have lost so much. Rebuilding will take time, resources and patience. Many have lost everything and are without insurance coverage. Millions are without power and water. Many are in shock.

Dirt lawyers are in an exceptional position to support clients who may not be familiar with the assistance available to them. We have all learned a lot in the last few years. I challenge each of us to continue to educate ourselves and to be available to offer the valuable advice our neighbors and others will need in the days ahead. Local, state and federal governments seem better prepared this time around and seem to be working better to coordinate efforts. Here is a link to the South Carolina Bar’s Key Assistance Numbers. South Carolinians are strong and resilient, and we are stronger and more resilient now than we were for the last disaster.

Let’s once again rise to the occasion, real estate lawyers, and provide the best advice available for our clients and friends who will need it as they sort out, clean up and rebuild.

Hilton Head Timeshare Project Entangled In Consumer Litigation

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Lawsuits involve tales of fraudulent sales tactics

Hilton Head’s Island Packet newspaper continues to report on approximately sixty state and federal lawsuits pitting disgruntled consumer purchaser plaintiffs against The Coral Sands Resort timeshare project on Pope Avenue in Hilton Head. The cases have been weaving their way through the court systems for three years.

shutterstock_47620291The lawsuits involve tales of fraudulent tactics by timeshare salesmen, such as promises of extra weeks in related projects that never materialize, promises of waived maintenance fees that never materialize, a pattern of baiting-and-switching units, promises that the developer will purchase timeshare units owned by the consumers in other projects as a sort of trade in, and sales of weeks that are available only every other year or every third year as if they were available every year. In short, the purchasers claim they were misled by sales pitches, and the documents they received did not reflect what had been told.

Most recently, Dan Burley reported on July 1 that two out-of-state couples received full refunds through arbitration. These two decisions are the first rulings in the various cases.

According to the July 1 article, separate arbitrators voided the couples’ contracts and ordered refunds because the contracts were determined to have violated aspects of the South Carolina Timeshare Act.

But the relief the consumers had requested went far beyond the refund of several thousand dollars. One of the cases was arbitrated by Hilton Head lawyer Curtis Coltrane. His twelve-page Award was attached to the news report and discussed allegations of common law fraud, negligent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy and Unfair Trade Practices, among others. All of those claims were dismissed for lack of evidence.  The arbitrator stated that the plaintiffs were intelligent individuals who should have been able to ascertain the contents of the documents by reading them.shutterstock_55553422

The second suit was arbitrated by Florence lawyer Richard L. Hinson with a similar result. As in the first case, all claims were dismissed except for the causes of action for Violation of the South Carolina Timeshare Act, in Mr. Hinson’s two-page award.

Representatives of the project are quoted as saying that thousands of customers are pleased with their Coral Resorts experience, and that owners who suffer from buyers’ remorse can ask for a refund within five days of signing the contract.

Mr. Burley’s previous articles in The Island Packet provide additional detail. I recommend the previous …and future articles on this litigation for interesting reading!