Pine Island

The 500-acre Pine Island and St. Helenaville property has two listings on the National Register of Historic Places for its archeology and architecture. It is one of the last large, mostly undeveloped tracts on St. Helena Island and surrounded by the Morgan River, Village Creek, and Eddings Creek in the St. Helena Sound. This land has served as a family retreat and hunting and timberland for half a century, but the proposed golf resort now threatens this pristine landscape.

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 because of the harmful impacts on Gullah/Geechee Culture.

The negative effects of luxury, gated golf course developments on Gullah/Geechee culture are identified in the National Parks Service’s Lowcountry Gullah Culture Special Resource Study and Final Environmental Impact Statement. The study notes how resorts, golf courses, and coastal suburban development on Sea Islands has historically led to steadily increasing property values and skyrocketing taxes and displaced Gullah/Geechee people.

On March 8, the County Staff Review Team (SRT) reviewed a pre-application and newly subdivided plat and preliminary plans for (3) 6-hole golf courses.

Pine Island GC LLC’s plans for (3) 6-hole golf courses were later rejected by Beaufort County Staff. An appeal of staff’s denial was heard by the Beaufort County Planning Commission at their June 5th, 2023 meeting, where they supported staff’s decision to deny the application for (3) 6-hole golf courses.

Pine Island Property Holdings LLC investor introduces himself during public comment at County Council on March 13 followed by public comments from Penn Center Trustee.

Video: 6 minutes.

To get around these CPO’s protections, the new owners pursued a rezoning to remove the property from the CPO district boundaries (see map below). A special exception from the CPO would have set a dangerous precedent leading to future rezoning requests. It would also permit the very uses that are deemed the most harmful to Gullah/Geechee culture in 2o4o Comprehensive Plan.

A zoning map illustrating the developer’s proposed carve out, which if approved, would have removed their property from the St. Helena Island Cultural Protection Overlay zone and enable the development of a luxury, gated golf course. County Council voted 8-2 to deny this map amendment at their June 26th meeting, instead opting to maintain the overlay’s protections on Pine Island.

The rezoning request was unanimously recommended for denial by the Beaufort County Planning Commission on June 5th, 2023. At their June 12th, 2023 meeting, the Community Services and Land Use Committee voted 6-1 to deny the rezoning request.

On June 26th, 2023, a powerful majority of the Beaufort County Council voted 8-2 to uphold the CPO on the Pine Island property, denying the rezoning/map amendment which would have created a special carve out from the CPO and enabled the luxury, gated golf course.

This marked a significant win in the fight to protect the island’s Gullah/Geechee culture, working farms, and maritime heritage. The County Council listened to their constituents, their planning staff, planning commission, and a committee of council and arrived at the logical decision to follow the law and comprehensive, electing to maintain the CPO on the Pine Island property.

However, on June 5th, 2023 Pine Island Property Holdings, LLC filed an appeal with the circuit court to challenge the Beaufort County Planning Commission’s denial of plans for 3, 6-hole golf courses on Pine Island (see attached). A second lawsuit was filed against Beaufort County raising allegations of due process, takings, and more on June 7th, 2023.

On September 1st, 2023, a circuit court judge granted the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, the Penn Center, the Coastal Conservation League, and individual landowners intervention in a case to support the Beaufort County Planning Commission’s denial of plans for three 6-hole golf courses on St. Helena Island based on the Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) zoning law. The Pine Island developer requested pre-trial mediation, which means the developer, the County, and all the intervenors—both those who support the CPO and those who support the golf resort—will be meeting together with an independent lawyer-mediator to see if the case can be resolved before going to court. The pre-trial mediation is currently scheduled for Friday, April 19th.

As we wait for this case to make its way through the court system, the community continues to speak on the importance of maintaining the decades-long commitment to protecting St. Helena.

Original Photos by Miles Sanders