By Stan Welch
A discussion of a pending, and somewhat controversial deal between the town and a private developer dominated the Council work session of the Williamston Town Council Tuesday night. The agreement between the town and Scout Development LLC is scheduled for a second and final reading next Monday night.
The agreement would allow the construction of as many as sixty five homes, in the $199-$220 thousand dollars price range. The homes would be built on 32.7 acres of land owned by the town. The property would be leased to the developer for one dollar. During the discussion, several Council members asked questions and raised issues. Town attorney Lee Cole explained the various safeguards and control points written into the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the town and the company. “The town has an unusually wide discretion in terms of approval or disapproval of the project as presented by the developer.”
Key among those opportunities for oversight, and possible action, is the requirement that the developer, Chris Hill, produces a site plan that the own planning commission approves. Approval by the county planning department is also required before any pertinent permits are issued. Once the town planning commission presents a recommendation to accept a site plan, the town council can either proceed or back out of the deal.
Either party can back out of the deal, for cause. But once the full council approves the site plan, the land is turned over to the developer, but the town retains the mortgage. As each house is built and approved, with the issuance of a certificate of occupancy by the county, the town would release that specific mortgage to the developer. Councilman Rockey Burgess questioned whether the town had sought proposals from other developers. “Maybe someone would be willing to buy the property and develop it?” suggested Burgess. Both the mayor and planning consultant Adam Chandler pointed out that the market value of such homes in Williamston is undetermined, largely because only fifty nine houses have been built in the town since 2015.
“Scout Development was willing to roll the dice, so to speak, and see where the ceiling was established. They put a great deal of work and energy into preparing for this project,” said Chandler. Mayor Durham took a slightly different tack, suggesting, if not stating outright, that the quality of the final product is more important than selling the property. The proposed MOU gives the town more oversight and control over the final product while a developer who owned the land outright would have fewer restraints on them.
Burgess, using the value of his own home as a base, offered the information that the town would receive between $42,000 and $52,000 in property taxes annually. “That is a substantial amount of revenue,” said Burgess.
Durham also reported that first reading of some flood water ordinances would be on the agenda Monday night. They are required to bring the town into compliance with new DHEC guidelines, following a flood study conducted in 2017.Chandler will also present the results of a retail/residential study he has conducted over the past year.
Senator Mike Gambrell will also be present to present a PRT check to the town. Mayor Durham also reviewed a series of accomplishments by the town, resulting in a capital investment of three million dollars, and the creation of one hundred new jobs in the town. Durham acknowledged the role of the Council and their cooperation in making those accomplishments possible.
By Stan Welch