by Sam Spence
Charleston County Council got a deeper look last week at numbers behind a proposed special tax district for the Beach Company’s Kiawah River Plantation development on Johns Island. By all accounts, it appears that the 2,000-acre, 1,200-unit project on the southern tip of Johns Island faces a tough path toward approval, and will face its first vote by Charleston County Council Finance Committee tonight.
The workshop was held to brief councilmembers on the details of the development before they vote on whether or not to commit $82 million in county money to the project in the form of a tax-increment financing district (TIF). The night featured presentations by both Beach Co. President John Darby and a consultant chosen by the county to analyze the proposed district. TIF districts are often used as mechanisms to spur redevelopment of, as state law puts it, “blighted and conservation” areas, and would provide initial money to Beach to make land preparations, improve and build roads, and provide other infrastructure needed before development can begin. It’s that letter of the law, the specific conditions laid out for TIFs in state code, that critics like the Coastal Conservation League have pointed to throughout the approval process. “One thing became very clear,” CCL’s Jake Libaire said following Thursday’s presentation. “The county cannot legally adopt an ordinance in support of this TIF.”
Darby estimates the proposed development would pump $16.3 million in property taxes into county coffers, revenue he emphasizes wouldn’t be there without the development. Currently, the county collects $2,900 in property taxes on the Mullet Hall land. Without the public assistance, Darby has said Beach will likely not move forward with the development in its current state, but has implied that some development would occur on the land regardless.
Tonight, County Council Finance Committee will hear from Johns Island Conservancy Executive Director Colin Cuskley on behalf of the group "Citizens in Opposition to the TIF" before it is slated take its first vote on whether to move forward with the TIF. In February, the Conservancy issued an eight-page report detailing their opposition to the TIF, with tonight's presentation is being framed as a counterpoint to the Beach presentation at last week's meeting. A vote against the plan by the finance committee would likely kill the TIF. The meeting begins at 5pm, but will be broadcasted online by the county.