Pine Island (St. Helena)
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On August 3rd, 2023, four groups, including the Conservation League, filed independent motions to intervene to defend Beaufort County’s denial of plans for three 6-hole golf courses on St. Helena Island in the appeal initiated by Pine Island Property Holdings, LLC. On Friday, September 1st, we learned the Beaufort County Circuit Court not only granted the Conservation League (and all other groups) intervention in the mediation, but in the appeal itself if the mediation fails. This was a great team effort that resulted in a positive outcome! We look forward to working with our partners and the County to help uphold the decision to deny the 3, 6-hole golf course plan
The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition (filed by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project), The Penn Center (represented by Jack Smith of Nelson Mullins), Coastal Conservation League (represented by Ross Appel of McCullough Khan Appel), and individual landowners (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. The CPO has been in place since the 1990s, which prohibits golf courses, gated communities, and resorts on St. Helena Island, a sea island community that is the epicenter of the Gullah/Geechee culture and people. While these motions were filed separately, this was a coordinated effort among multiple partners to continue to stand behind the St. Helena community. (Read more)
Despite the long-standing protections of the Cultural Protection Overlay, a developer has tried since November 2022 to circumvent these community-based rules to build a luxury, gated golf resort on the 502-acre Pine Island/St. Helenaville property on St. Helena Island.
On July 5th, 2023 Pine Island Property Holdings LLC filed an appeal to the circuit court to challenge the Beaufort County Planning Commission’s denial of plans for 3, 6-hole golf courses on Pine Island. The appeal also includes a request for pre-litigation mediation. A second lawsuit was filed against Beaufort County raising allegations of due process, takings, and more on July 7th, 2023.
On June 26th, 2023 the Beaufort County Council voted 8-2 against a special exception from the CPO for Pine Island and in support of maintaining the integrity of St. Helena’s CPO zoning. This outcome marks a major milestone in protecting St. Helena Island and its Gullah/Geechee culture from incompatible development.
Likewise, on June 12th, the County Council Community Services and Land Use Committee voted 6-1 to deny the rezoning request. The Beaufort County Planning Commission also unanimously rejected the developer’s requests to circumvent St. Helena’s CPO zoning law to build a luxury, gated golf resort at their June 5th, 2023 meeting.
County Council listened to the hundreds of people behind the St. Helena community, supporting the original vision and intent of the CPO in prohibiting golf courses, gated communities, and resort developments. Send County Council a thank you for standing with St. Helena. To do so, copy this into the “To” field: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
What is the CPO?
The Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) is a community-driven zoning tool that was adopted in the late 1990s directly in response to the land conversion taking place on surrounding sea islands and, in particular, the golf resorts and gated communities spreading across Hilton Head Island and more acutely on Fripp Island, Harbor Island, and Dataw Island in Northern Beaufort County. The St. Helena community made clear that they had a different vision for the future of their landscape.
The CPO zoning district expressly prohibits golf courses, gated communities, resorts, and restrictions to waterways and culturally significant locations on St. Helena Island. Its intent is to prevent gentrification and the loss of Gullah/Geechee culture and land, specifically acknowledging “St. Helena’s historic cultural landscape and its importance as a center of Beaufort County’s most notable concentration of Gullah culture.”
The CPO district boundaries include the entirety of St. Helena Island, including Pine Island and St. Helenaville. It serves as additional protection over and above base T2Rural zoning and is unique to St Helena, developed by and for the St. Helena community in the 1990s and reinforced in years since. The overlay was established with the first Beaufort County Comprehensive Plan and has guided development for St. Helena for over twenty years.
On May 8th 2023, Beaufort County Council voted 9-2 to adopt the updated Cultural Protection Overlay standards that were drafted by the citizen-led Cultural Protection Overlay Committee and with support from Beaufort County legal staff. These updates were prompted by a recommendation from the Envision Beaufort County 2040 Comprehensive Plan to “reevaluate the CPO by considering whether additional land use restrictions are necessary to meet the intent of the district.”
Pine Island & St. Helenaville
The culturally and historically rich 502-acre Pine Island and St. Helenaville property has two listings on the National Register of Historic Places, including for its archeology and architecture, and it is one of the last large, relatively undeveloped tracts on St.Helena Island in Northern Beaufort County. Surrounded by the Morgan River, Village Creek, and Eddings Creek in the St. Helena Sound, this land served as a family retreat and hunting and timberland for over half a century. But the property recently sold to a developer.
On March 1, 2023 Pine Island Property Holdings, LLC (formerly Pine Island GC, LCC) officially purchased Pine Island for $18 million dollars to build an exclusive golf club and resort despite the Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) which bans this type of development. The proposed golf resort is in direct conflict with the community-based zoning standards, the Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO), that has been in place on St. Helena Island for over 20 years. To circumvent these protections, the new owners are pursued a rezoning to remove the property from the CPO district boundaries.
Photo Credit: Brown Land + Plantation Advisors
Protecting St. Helena
St. Helena is home to Beaufort County’s largest concentration of Gullah/Geechee people and landowners. The CPO protects the community from gentrification through development practices deemed incompatible by the community. The CPO explicitly prohibits gated communities, resorts, and golf courses because these particular land uses are directly linked to increasing residential property taxes, which contributes to the loss of Gullah/Geechee land ownership, and thereby Gullah/Geechee culture.
Indeed, this was documented by the National Park Service in the findings used to establish the federally designated Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor:
The demarcation between planned resort communities and traditional rural agricultural lands is dramatic. Resorts, golf courses, and coastal suburban development on the islands led to steadily increasing property values and skyrocketing taxes. Island economies changed from rural subsistence farming to a service-based economy. Native islanders were often unable to bear the tax burden, and many were forced to leave their homes. Not just Gullah Geechee people but all islanders of modest means, black and white, have been adversely affected by the rising taxes caused by development and population growth.
National Park Service. Low Country Gullah Culture Special Resource Study and Final Environmental Impact Statement. Atlanta, GA: NPS Southeast Regional Office, 2005.
In November 2021, Beaufort County adopted an updated Comprehensive Plan: Envision Beaufort County 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The Plan places a high priority on protecting the Gullah/Geechee community and rural way of life on St. Helena and the surround sea islands.2040_CompPlan_St Helena
The St. Helena Spotlight section notes how rapid coastal development is the greatest threat to Gullah/Geechee communities, recognizing that high-end developments along waterfront properties make it difficult to access traditional fishing and hunting grounds and increase property taxes. The plan is crystal clear about the dangers of incompatible development on St. Helena:
The primary threat to the long-term viability of Beaufort County’s Gullah/Geechee communities is land development. Implementing land use policies that concentrate growth in urban areas and protect rural land from suburban development, are the most important actions the County can take to protect its unique Gullah/Geechee heritage.
Therefore, one of the recommended actions of the plan to further protect St. Helena is to assess and strengthen the CPO. To accomplish this, Beaufort County recently sat the community-led CPO Committee, which began meeting in December 2022.
Timeline of Relevant Events
On November 14, 2022, Beaufort County Council approved the formation of the CPO Committee made up of St. Helena Island community member representatives to achieve one of the high priority items and recommended actions of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan: protecting the Gullah/Geechee community and rural way of life on St. Helena by assessing and strengthening the CPO.
After the initial meeting of the CPO Committee on December 13, 2022, Beaufort County administration submitted a proposed text amendment to the CPO that would allow golf courses, gated communities, and resorts on St. Helena, all of which are currently prohibited uses under the CPO, if the property is 50+ acres and the developer enters into a Development Agreement with the County. Prior to that, Pine Island GC, LLC applied for a zoning map amendment to remove the Pine Island and St. Helenaville property from the CPO zoning district boundaries to allow development of an exclusive, high-end golf resort.
At their January 5th 2023 meeting, before a diverse coalition of St. Helena Island residents, community advocates and stakeholders, the Beaufort County Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of the CPO amendment. The issue was then taken up by the County’s Community Services and Land Use Committee on January 9th, 2023. Before another packed house, the Community Services and Land Use committee moved to postpone the text amendment until their April 10th, 2023 meeting and to send it to the CPO committee for a recommendation.
The CPO Committee, chaired by Queen Quet, met 4 times (January 17, January 31, February 21, and March 21). The committee’s recommendations (available here), help strengthen the CPO and clarify its purpose and intent. The updates to the CPO were approved by County Council on first reading by a 10-1 vote on April 10th, 2023.
At their April 24th, 2023 meeting, County Council voted 8-2 to approve the amendments to clarify and strengthen the language. A third and final reading was held on May 8th, 2023, where the council formally adopted the updates to the CPO by a margin of 9-2. The move confirms what the community made clear decades ago: no golf courses, no gated communities, and no resort developments on St. Helena Island.
On June 5th, 2023, just a few weeks after the County Council adopted the updated CPO zone standards, the Beaufort County Planning Commission considered the rezoning application to remove the 500-acre Pine Island property from the CPO district boundaries. The Planning Commission was also presented an appeal of Beaufort County staff’s denial of plans for (3) 6-hole golf courses. After a marathon meeting that spanned 5-hours, the Beaufort County Planning Commission unanimously upheld Beaufort County staff’s denial of the plan for three (3) 6-hole golf courses on the Pine Island property and unanimously recommended denial of a rezoning request to carve out Pine Island from the CPO district boundaries.
On June 12th, 2023, the rezoning request for Pine Island went to a committee of Beaufort County Council, the Community Services and Land Use Committee. That committee voted 6-1 in favor of denying the request to remove the 502-acre Pine Island property from the CPO district boundaries. From there, the issue went to full County Council for a first reading at their June 26th meeting, which resulted in 8-2 vote to deny the rezoning. The denial on first reading means that the request to rezone and amend the zoning map for Pine Island dies and cannot advance to further readings.
The Beaufort County Council’s decision to maintain the CPO on Pine Island marks a big win in the fight to protect St. Helena Island’s Gullah/Geechee culture, rural landscapes, working farms, and maritime heritage from incompatible development. But we must continue to stay vigilant, working as community to ensure a positive outcome for this historic, culturally rich property.
Under current law, golf courses, resorts and gated communities are prohibited within the CPO zoning district on St. Helena Island. A special exception to remove Pine Island from the CPO through a rezoning would set a dangerous precedent and have a domino effect that could eviscerate the CPO, opening up St. Helena Island to gentrifying resorts, gated communities, and golf course developments.Rezoning exhibit
Such an exception to this overlay would make it close to impossible to uphold the goals of the CPO and to maintain the traditional rural lifestyle of the island. In short, a special exception for Pine Island would rip out the heart and soul of the CPO, leaving the values it was designed to protect at great risk. As astutely summarized in a Beaufort County staff report given on June 5th, 2023 to the Beaufort County Planning Commission:
“It is clearly established that the location and extent of the CPO boundaries were purposefully delineated to support and implement the Comprehensive Plan and the purpose statement of the CPO. To move the boundaries for the purpose of excluding certain parcels erodes the effectiveness of the CPO by allowing the very uses that have been identified as posing the greatest threat to the character and stability of the island community. The magnitude of the proposed rezoning (502 acres) only increases the potential impact of this rezoning.”
The St. Helena community is voicing their support for enforcing the CPO’s restrictions loudly and clearly. Notably, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition as well as the Historic Penn Center gained thousands of signatures on their respective petitions. Governor Henry McMaster also shared his concerns.
Local Senator Chip Campsen and Congresswoman Nancy Mace expressed their concerns as well, joining the groundswell of public support for the Cultural Protection Overlay. A coalition of partners from organizations, neighborhood associations, historians, and native islanders, including the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, Historic Penn Center, Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, Chief Se’khu Hadjo Gentle of the Yamassee Indian tribe of Seminoles, Preservation South Carolina, Savannah Archaeological Alliance, Atlanta Preservation Center, Dulamo Homeowners Association, Coastal Conservation League, Beaufort County Open Land Trust, South Carolina Environmental Law Project, Historic Beaufort Foundation, Sea Island Corridor Coalition, Hilton Head Island Audubon Society, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, and South Carolina Backcountry Hunters & Anglers all support a strong CPO on St. Helena.
How to Get Involved
Get engaged and help get the word out about this looming threat to historic St. Helena Island and the Gullah/Geechee culture that is so closely tied to the land.
- Write Beaufort County Council to thank them for standing up for St. Helena and its community-driven CPO zoning by denying the rezoning request to remove Pine Island from the overlay:
- Joe Passiment ([email protected])
- Larry McEllyn ([email protected])
- Gerald Dawson ([email protected])
- David Bartholomew ([email protected])
- York Glover ([email protected])
- Alice Howard ([email protected])
- Anna Maria “Tab” Tabernik ([email protected])
- Logan Cunningham ([email protected])
- Paula Brown ([email protected])
- Mark Lawson ([email protected])
- Tom Reitz ([email protected])
- Write Letters to the Editor to the local newspaper
In the News
It isn’t over yet, a Lowcountry community rallies to preserve a rural island. (SC Public Radio, July 19, 2023)
Pine Island developer is not done fighting as he brings legal action against county, (The Island Packet, July 10 2023
Golf resort on Pine Island is a non-starter, Letter by Dr. Marie Gibbs. (The Island News, June 27, 2023)
Council rejects call to remove SC island from rules against golf course, gated communities. (The Post & Courier, June 27, 2023)
It is over: Pine Island golf course killed by council. Options for next steps surface. (The Island Packet, June 27, 2023)
The developers are going to have to go someplace else, Letter by Miles Sanders. (The Island News, June 21, 2023)
Another set of losses for Pine Island Developer after Planning Commission meeting. (The Island Packet, June 6, 2023)
Planning commission deals setbacks to Pine Island golf course developer. (The Post & Courier, June 6, 2023)
Developer seeks to rezone Pine Island property (The Post & Courier, May 26, 2023)
Developer seeks to have Pine Island rezoned (The Island News, May 24, 2023)
It’s final: No golf or gated communities for St. Helena. ‘The community has spoken’ (The Island Packet, May 9, 2023)
Commentary: St. Helena Island deserves continued protection; Beaufort County can’t give in (The Post & Courier, May 5, 2023)
Conflict on St. Helena is heating up. What makes this sea island worth fighting for? (The Post & Courier, May 2, 2023)
Denied a golf course on St. Helena’s Pine Island, developer makes a new pitch (The Post & Courier, May 2, 2023)
St. Helena CPO update passes Council’s 2nd reading (The Island News, April 26, 2023)
Beaufort County presses ahead with St. Helena golf course ban. ‘This has become a war’(The Island Packet, April 26, 2023)
Protection of Gullah-Geechee culture, ACE Basin crucial for St. Helena’s future, Letter by Carolyn Jebaily (The Island News, April 19, 2023)
Beaufort County votes to prohibit golf courses on St. Helena. But the Battle isn’t over (The Post & Courier, April 17, 2023)
Beaufort County votes to tighten language banning golf courses on St. Helena Island (The Island Packet, April 11, 2023)
Beaufort Co. Council votes to approve amendment to Cultural Protection Overlay (WTOC, April 10th, 2023)
We cannot allow the land of the treasured Gullah people to become ‘gwine wit de tide’ (Island Packet, April 9, 2023)
What would best serve the needs of Saint Helena?, Letter by Janet McCauley (The Island News, April 5, 2023)
Proposed change could put Pine Island on St. Helena in jeopardy (WTOC, April 5th, 2023)
‘Protect St. Helena’ –Community comes out in droves to oppose development of Pine Island and St. Helenaville (The Island News, April 5th, 2023)
18-hole golf course blocked on St. Helena, but how about 3 with 6 holes? 450 say no way(The Beaufort Gazette, April 1, 2023)
Editorial: Protect St. Helena Island from encroaching development (Post & Courier, March 19, 2023)
Pine Island Rules protect Gullah Culture, ban golf courses. New owner has different vision. (Post & Courier, March 15, 2023)
Save Beaufort County by demanding controlled growth (Island News, Jan. 25, 2023)
State leaders, residents oppose zoning changes on St. Helena Island (WTOC, Jan. 19, 2023)
It’s an affront’: Roll over for the beginning of the end for St. Helena Island, Editorial by David Lauderdale (Island Packet, Jan. 17, 2023)
Beaufort officials recommend changes that could allow golf resort on St. Helena Island (Post & Courier, Jan. 13, 2023)
Taxation without representation, Letter to Editor by Jerry Floyd (Island News, Jan. 11, 2023)
Changes to CPO postponed until April (Island News, Jan. 11, 2023)
Like ‘awakened piranha,’ opponents continue to rally against St. Helena development (Island Packet, Jan. 10, 2023)
Gov. McMaster speaking out about proposed St. Helena development plan (WJBF, Jan. 8, 2023)
Beaufort residents concerned about proposed Cultural Protection Overlay amendment (Fox 28 Savannah, Jan. 6, 2023)
Beaufort Planning Commission rejects large St. Helena development plan (WSAV, Jan. 6, 2023)
Panel rejects changes to St. Helena Island protections after vocal residents turn out (Island Packet, Jan. 6, 2023)
Planning commission rejects change that would bring new development to St. Helena Island (Live 5 News, Jan. 5, 2023)
McMaster speaks out against St. Helena Island changes, fears ‘open season’ for developers (Post & Courier, Jan. 5, 2023)
‘Protect the area’: Gov. McMaster weighs in on controversial proposed St. Helena development (Island Packet, Jan. 4, 2023)
The wrong type of investment for St. Helena Island, Letter to Editor by Marilyn Hemingway, CEO/President, Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce (Island News, Jan. 4, 2023)
Potential gated community, golf course on St. Helena likely subject at County Planning meeting (Island News, Jan. 4, 2023)
Uphold the Integrity of the Cultural Protection Overlay on St. Helena Island, Op-Ed by Victoria Smalls, Executive Director, Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (Island Packet, Dec. 28, 2022)
Developer wants golf course and resort on St. Helena Island; Penn Center says no (Explore Beaufort SC, Dec. 20, 2022)
Development has St. Helena residents worried. ‘We don’t want to become another Hilton Head’ (Island Packet, Dec. 17, 2022)
Gullah/Geechee Nation’s St. Helena Island Story Map