Monday, December 18, 2023 Blog · News

An update on protecting St. Helena

by Lily Abromeit

It’s been a few months since we’ve shared an update about our work to protect St. Helena Island by supporting the community in upholding the Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) zoning rules, which prohibit gated communities and golf resorts. As you know, much of this work over the last year has been centered around the Pine Island/St. Helenaville property and attempts by a developer backed by wealthy investors to circumvent the CPO to build an exclusive, luxury gated golf resort.

Over the past few months, we’ve continued to work with the community to support their vision for St. Helena Island, as the integrity of the island remains at risk.

What’s the latest?

You may remember that in June, following months of extensive public input (from island residents like Ms. Gardenia Simmons-White), the Beaufort County Planning Commission unanimously upheld the staff’s denial of plans for three 6-hole golf courses on Pine Island. And, a few weeks later, Beaufort County Council followed suit, rejecting the request to remove Pine Island from the CPO. In July, Pine Island Property Holdings, LLC and Pine Island GC, LLC filed two lawsuits against Beaufort County, appealing the denial decisions and challenging the validity of the CPO. The appeal also includes a request for pre-trial mediation.

The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition (filed by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project), the Penn Center (represented by Jack Smith of Nelson Mullins), the Coastal Conservation League (represented by Ross Appel of McCullough Khan Appel), and individual landowners Leon and Joanne Heyward and Robert New (represented by Will Cook of Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC) all filed separate motions seeking to intervene and uphold the Beaufort County Planning Commission’s denials based on the Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) zoning law.

In September, we were all granted intervention in the case, giving community members the opportunity to meaningfully participate as parties to the mediation and appeal, where the outcome of the case will impact their ability to pursue a livelihood and support their families, protect their culture, and preserve the rural way of life on St. Helena for generations to come.

Last week, individuals aligned with the developer in support of plans for a golf resort at Pine Island were also granted intervention. Ultimately, the additional intervenors’ presence in the appeal has no bearing on the actual issue at hand, which is whether or not Beaufort County made the right decision in denying plans for three 6-hole golf courses on the Pine Island property as prohibited by the Cultural Protection Overlay.

We believe Beaufort County properly interpreted and applied the rules of the Cultural Protection Overlay and that decision is what the court will be reviewing in this case.

Separating fact from fiction

As we wait for this case to make its way through the court system, we continue to hear from and engage with the community on the importance of maintaining the decades-long commitment to protecting St. Helena.

Claims that 166 homes will be built on the Pine Island in lieu of the golf resort is neither a likely option, nor the only option.

The likelihood of this happening is small. Any large residential development would take many years to build out and require extensive permitting review from multiple local, state, and federal entities. These permit decisions can take years and often face lengthy and significant legal challenges.

There are many other options for the property to benefit and be celebrated by the entire St. Helena community, including land protection with public access.

To understand the truth behind other myths, visit the myth-busting page on

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