Both Safe Harbor and Port Royal claim progress has been made in developing the large waterfront but there is still work to be done
Port Royal and Safe Harbor Marina officials say a Feb. 1 meeting called to voice concerns about marina-centric development on the city’s waterfront led to a resumption of long-stalled dialogue. The meeting discussed project plans, including the unpopular idea of renting out homes, which many residents oppose.
For Mayor Kevin Phillips, one of the most important takeaways from the meeting was the assurance he said Safe Harbor officials provided that the construction of townhomes for rent is not a “foregone conclusion.”
“That’s the biggest thing we’ve been concerned about,” Phillips told the Beaufort Gazette & Island Packet. “It’s good to know it’s not a done deal.”
While Safe Harbor’s focus is on marinas, “we’ve emphasized to them that this development is much more than just the marina that matters to the city,” Phillips added.
The housing plans for Safe Harbor are part of a larger development centered around a full-service marina that will serve boaters in the Port Royal area and those crossing the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The proposed marina, which would have 150-200 dedicated waterslips or parking spaces, would also serve Port Royal’s commercial fishing fleet.
The marina permit, which requires approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, is now 95% complete, city manager Van Willis said. Once that permit is obtained, construction will begin, Willis said.
The February 1 meeting, held at Port Royal Town Hall, lasted three and a half hours and was attended by four Safe Harbor officials, including Peter H. Clark, Safe Harbor’s chief development officer, who flew in from Dallas. The city was represented by Phillips, Councilman Jerry Ashmore, City Manager Van Willis, Planning Director Noah Krebs, and Brooke Blank Buccola, Director of Administrative Services. Phillips called it “a great first step.”
The meeting “went great,” Clark told the Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet on Friday.
“I thought it was a meeting that really put us on the level and will certainly open up the lines of communication moving forward,” Clark said.
Progress has been made on land swaps and easements that are key to the development plans, and “we hope to get to the finish line soon,” Clark said.
Safe Harbor also showed the city its intentions for the marina, which will have 150 to 200 wet slips to tie up boats. Safe Harbor expects to obtain permits from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Army Corps of Engineers within a few months, Clark said.
As for the Beach Companies’ housing proposal, Clark said, “We’re working on that front.”
“We heard the feedback from the town and it was good to hear it in person,” Clark said of the rental townhouse plan. “We understand. We are working with Beach to delve into their plan. But there are no firm agreements with Beach.”
Despite the positive developments, Phillips said, rental housing remains a problem that needs to be solved.
“We didn’t have them say we would never build a rental neighborhood, but they said they were open and didn’t want to jeopardize the marina project,” Phillips said.
In August 2023, Charleston-based The Beach, in collaboration with Safe Harbor, unveiled a plan to build 200 townhomes and about 30 single-family homes on land overlooking Battery Creek called “The Bluff.” But the announcement that these units would be for rent, not for sale, sparked strong opposition from residents in a town already concerned about building too many housing units.
Phillips pointed out that the Beach Company, which Safe Harbor has worked with in the past, is not under contract with Safe Harbor.
“They are open to other designs,” Phillips said, referring to Safe Harbor. “They said they are open to talking with other builders as well.”
On Wednesday, when the City Council met for a work session, Tricia Fidrich, a Port Royal resident who has repeatedly raised questions about the project, addressed the rental units. “I sincerely hope you will continue to push hard on the Safe Harbor program to create a better vision and a better reality for these properties,” she told council members.
Fidrich, the resident who spoke about home rentals, said she hoped to get more information at Wednesday’s meeting in light of the meeting between Safe Harbor and city officials, which was not open to the public.
On Wednesday, City Manager Van Willis briefly referenced Safe Harbor when he gave a regular update on his projects. His report included that the city and Safe Harbor continue to work on easements across the Safe Harbor property that will allow the popular Spanish Moss Trail to be extended to the Port Royal waterfront.
Fidrich said she appreciated the report, “but honestly, I was hoping for more details.” I think the whole city might be hoping for more details.
She called for a public presentation by Safe Harbor that includes a timeline and master plan so the public can get a better understanding of the project.
Some residents requested that the meeting with Safe Harbor be public but Phillips said he wanted to make Safe Harbor officials “as comfortable as possible so they can be as open and honest as possible.” “
“I knew that if the audience had been there, their answers might have been different and might not have been as honest,” Phillips said.
The mayor said Safe Harbor acknowledged at the meeting that it could communicate better with the city.
“I don’t think they’ve dealt with a city that has been so careful and vigilant about the project,” Phillips said.
Spanish moss trail
The City Council is expected to vote on the Spanish Moss Trail easement on Wednesday. A Safe Harbor representative is expected to attend that meeting, Councilman Jerry Ashmore said.
Willis said city officials and Safe Harbor continue to work on a property swap that will allow the city to acquire the land between Shellring Ale Works and Fish Camp on 11th Street to build a shrimp processing facility in conjunction with new shrimp docks planned for that area. The city is negotiating to acquire ownership of the “beer garden” in this exchange. This property is located near the famous Sands Beach. In the swap, the city would give up a few parcels of land adjacent to the Safe Harbor property.
At the conclusion of the work session on Wednesday, the full City Council met in executive session to seek legal advice regarding the sanctuary plans and discuss Planning Commission applicants.
In December, the town sent a six-page letter to Safe Harbor seeking to resolve its concerns about development plans, including rental housing. This prompted a response from Clark on January 9, who requested a face-to-face meeting to resolve the issues.
Once docked by the South Carolina Ports Authority, Port Royal is located between the historic part of town and Battery Creek. Safe Harbor purchased the property for $20.5 million from Gray Ghost Properties, in November 2021. Gray Ghost Property purchased the land from the South Carolina Ports Authority for $9 million in 2017.
The city was also not happy about Safe Harbor using its property in Port Royal to build piers for its marina in Charleston. Phillips said the issue was raised at the meeting. Safe Harbor has begun purchasing equipment in the area to build the Port Royal Marina. Phillips said he hates having the company pack up and move the equipment needed for the dock work just as it gets a permit to start building the local marina.
“I thought it went really well,” Phillips said of the meeting. “We’ll see how things develop.”