Lisa Sulka

A development agreement is a binding agreement between local governments and developers for the long-term development of large tracts of land that provides clear expectations to the development patterns and land use intensities for a specific area.

The Town of Bluffton has entered into agreements for PUDs (Planned Unit Developments) for approximately 32,000 acres of land, or 50 square miles. This is 92% of the total land area of the Town of Bluffton. The remaining 8%, or 4 square miles of land, is regulated using traditional zoning districts.

The Town of Bluffton has entered into agreements with the following, and approved as far back as 1999: Bluffton Village, Buckwalter, Jones Estate, New Riverside, Palmetto Bluff, Shultz Tract, and Village at Verdier.

Kent Estates, located to the south of Village at Verdier along Hwy. 170, had a development agreement with the Town that was terminated. This development had 449 residential dwelling units and 119,000 square feet of commercial space.

When the Kent Estates agreement was terminated, this density was transferred to the Town’s development rights bank. This means that the Town can choose to distribute these units and square footage to other areas for future use.

In each of these agreements, there is a maximum number of residential units, commercial-civic or multi-family square footage, and even hotel units. This provides the developer and the Town with clear expectations as to what to expect at “build-out” or maximum development.

Depending on provisions in the agreements, these development rights may be transferred to specific areas within the development, or even purchased by Beaufort County’s Rural and Critical Lands Program to be retired and ultimately lower the overall totals.

Other development patterns and regulations may be further addressed in the agreements, such as an inclusion of workforce housing or land reserved for civic space. Signage and design criteria for the developments are other items that are included.

These terms can be renegotiated by both parties through an amendment process.

Agreements may be amended over time and are ultimately approved by Town Council after an extensive public review process. The process begins with a request that is considered by Town Council to send to the Negotiating Committee.

The Negotiating Committee consists of members of the public, Town Council, a representative from Beaufort County Council, the Town’s Affordable Housing Committee, Planning Commission, and the Don Ron Center for Innovation.

This committee meets to discuss the request and negotiate various terms and obligations with the applicant. These meetings are public meetings and conclude with a recommendation that is forwarded to the Town’s Planning Commission for its consideration when making a recommendation to Town Council.

Currently, the Negotiating Committee is reviewing a request from Village Park Homes to receive additional dwelling units and fee waivers for the next phase of Alston Park in the Jones Estate Development Agreement.

Two other requests will be heard in upcoming meetings, one from Southeastern Development Associates to remove restrictions on residential dwelling units in the Buckwalter Development and another from Indian Hill Associates to renegotiate terms associated with building a road in Willow Run within Buckwalter.

The overall status for all of the development agreements are presented annually by Town staff at a Town Council meeting. For more information, contact Heather Colin, director of growth management, at 843-706-4592.

Lisa Sulka is the mayor of the Town of Bluffton.