THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Land use: Dispute continues between businesses that share parking
By Charles Swenson
An ongoing dispute over rebuilding of the marina store and restaurant at Marlin Quay returned to where it began, with an appeal of Georgetown County’s decision to issue a permit for the project without a public hearing. It was the second permit to be appealed and the second appeal to be rejected. It is likely to be the second appeal to go Circuit Court.
There are also two other lawsuits pending between the owners of the marina store and the Gulfstream Café, which share a parking lot overlooking the marina at Garden City.
“Don’t get confused on this project if you think it looks familiar,” Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, told members of the Board of Zoning Appeals last week. Gulfstream Café, owned by the Atlanta-based CentraArchy restaurant group, appealed the county’s permit decision in 2016.
Gulfstream argues that the reconstruction of the marina office and restaurant constitute a major change to the Marlin Quay “planned development” zoning district. The zoning ordinance requires a hearing before the Planning Commission and three readings by County Council for major changes. “The county considered it a minor change,” Johnson said. Not only did the appeals board agree, so did Circuit Court Judge Ben Culbertson. Gulfstream filed a motion for reconsideration that is still pending.
In the meantime, Palmetto Industrial Development, whose principal is Mark Lawhon of Florence, turned in a new building permit application to rebuild the marina store and restaurant. (The original building was torn down in 2016.) The old building had 4,603 square feet. The new building will have 4,598 square feet plus another 3,927 square feet of unheated space. It will also increase the amount of parking spaces to 62, 11 more than are required by the zoning ordinance, according to the planning staff.
Gulfstream, represented by George Redman, an attorney with the Bellamy Law Firm, said the new building will change the intensity of use on the property, one of the criteria the ordinance lists for deciding whether a change to a planned development is major or minor.
“This is a major change. The plans show it,” Redman said. In addition, Gulfstream has an easement to use the parking lot that will be impacted by the new building. “When it gets busy, there are serious constraints on parking.”
He also renewed claims made in the first appeal that Steve Goggans, whose firm SGA Architecture designed the marina building, used his role as a County Council member to sway the staff decision. “The appearance of impropriety exits,” Redman said.
That drew a rebuke from Tim Onions, who chairs the appeals board. “I’m not sure he asked them to do anything,” he said. “The way you stated it, I’m not sure that’s accurate.”
Due to the litigation, Redman said he needed to include it for the record.
Dan Stacy, the attorney for the marina store, said that while the building will change, none of the changes are sufficient to trigger a major change to the planned development. “We think we have mitigated any impact on this parking lot,” he said. The stated objections to Marlin Quay 1 were completely addressed by the new set of plans.”
Wesley Bryant, the county attorney, called the appeal of the marina store permits “an attempt to stifle competition” and “an abuse of process.”
If the building was ruled a major change and approved by the county, Bryant said he believes Gulfstream would still oppose it. He objected to “keep throwing taxpayers money at it.”
In arguing for a major change Redman cited an engineer’s report that the new marina building would go from 50 to 177 restaurant seats. But he told the board “allegations that this is about competing business, that’s not true.”
The board voted 5-0 to deny his appeal.
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