Developer appeals Beaufort Co. Council’s decision to block golf courses in historic Gullah Geechee area

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 5:38 PM EDT|Updated: May. 22, 2023 at 5:51 PM EDT
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BEAUFORT, S.C. (WTOC) - A developer is now appealing Beaufort County Council’s decision to block golf courses or gated communities in a historically Gullah Geechee area of the Lowcountry.

Gullah Geechee people have been living on St. Helena for generations and the specific 500 or so acres of Pine Island have been legally protected since the 90s. We’ve been tracking the fight over a potential change to protection that for months, as the Gullah people say a developer is trying to gentrify their home.

Beaufort County giving a huge boost of confidence to the native islanders in the last month.

“We have denied their application for development permit to build the golf courses,” Eric Greenway, Administrator, Beaufort County said.

“Motion carries”

The applause putting on full display how much the protection of this land means to folks here, like Bernie Wright... the interim director at Penn Center.

“April of 1862 at the Oaks Plantation”

He works at one of the most protected parts of St. Helena, a few minutes away from the land whose protection was upheld at that council meeting. Wright says the entire area is historic.

“This island itself St. Helena had 55 plantations on which there were 10,000 enslaved people working the fields,” Interim Director Bernie Wright said.

Eventually some of them would be educated right here and become landowners in the area. Their culture passed down generations, the Gullah people staying prominent and protected. Wright says though, if golf course resort development were allowed, everything would be jeopardized.

“20, 25 years out you would not be able to recognize the way of life on St. Helena Island.”

County council as you’ve heard, denied the application that would do that, pleasing Wright and the 10,000 plus people that petitioned against it.

“You can’t put a value on that. That’s just so important.”

While the approval of the protection is a vote of confidence, Wright knows it’s not the end of this battle.

“The fight’s not over. We have to continue to talk, educate and enlighten people about this great place.”

As we said at the beginning of this story the developer has filed an appeal of the county council’s decision. The county though also tells me the developer has submitted a separate re-zoning request trying to get Pine Island excluded from the protection overlay the council just upheld looking for another way to build the golf resort they’re imagining.