Criminal Defense Attorney inPort Royal, SC

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CDH Law Firm: Giving Hope to
Criminal Defense Clients in
Port Royal, SC

Getting charged with a crime in Port Royal can be a traumatic experience. Even "petty" crimes can cause an individual's life to fall apart professionally and personally. Spending time in jail is bad enough, but the ramifications of a criminal record run deep, resulting in loss of employment, loss of friends, and even family. For many people, having a zealous criminal defense attorney in Port Royal, SC, to defend their rights is the only shot they have of living a normal life.

That's why, if you have been charged with a crime, you need the help of a veteran criminal defense lawyer early in the legal process. That's where CDH Law Firm comes in to give you or your loved one hope when you need it the most.

Our criminal defense law firm was founded to help people just like you - hardworking men and women who are looking at diminished employment opportunities and a possible lifetime of embarrassment. But with our team of experts fighting by your side, you have a much better chance of maintaining your freedom and living a normal, productive life. When it comes to criminal law in Port Royal, we've seen it all. With decades of combined experience, there is no case too complicated or severe for us to handle, from common DUI charges to complicated cases involving juvenile crimes. Unlike some of our competition, we prioritize personalized service and cutting-edge criminal defense strategies to effectively represent our clients.

Criminal Defense Attorney Port Royal, SC

Clients rank CHSA Law, LLC as the top choice for Port Royal criminal defense because we provide:

  • One-on-One Counsel
  • Education on the Port Royal Legal Process and Its Risks
  • Ardent, Effective Representation
  • Commitment to Our Clients and Defending Their Rights
  • Prompt Inquiry Response
  • Robust Experience with Criminal Law Cases in Port Royal
  • Innovative Defense Strategies
  • Effective, Thorough Research and Investigation

Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer in Port Royal can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. Our firm has represented thousands of clients in the Lowcountry, and we're ready to defend you too. Some of our specialties include:

 Law Firm Port Royal, SC

DUI Cases
in Port Royal, SC

DUI penalties in Port Royal can be very harsh. Many first-time DUI offenders must endure a lifelong criminal record, license suspension, and the possibility of spending time in jail. Officers and judges take DUI very seriously, with 30% of traffic fatalities in South Carolina involving impaired drivers, according to NHTSA. Criminal convictions can have lasting impacts on your life, which is why CDH Law Firm works so hard to get these charges dismissed or negotiated down. In some cases, we help clients avoid jail time altogether.

 Criminal Defense Lawyer Port Royal, SC
When you hire our DUI defense firm, our team will always work towards your best interests and will go above and beyond to achieve the best outcome in your case. Depending on the circumstances of your DUI charges, we will investigate whether:
  • Your DUI stop was legal
  • You were administered a field sobriety test correctly
  • The breathalyzer used was calibrated correctly and properly maintained
  • Urine and blood tests were administered and collected properly

The bottom line? Our criminal law defense attorneys will do everything possible to keep you out of jail with a clean permanent record. It all starts with a free consultation, where we will take time to explain the DUI process. We'll also discuss your defense options and speak at length about the differences between going to trial and accepting a plea bargain.

DUI Penalties in Port Royal, SC

The consequences of a DUI in Port Royal depend on a number of factors, including your blood alcohol level and how many DUIs you have received in the last 10 years. If you're convicted, the DUI charge will remain on your criminal history and can be seen by anyone who runs a background check on you. Sometimes, a judge will require you to enter alcohol treatment or install an interlock device on your automobile.

If you're on the fence about hiring a criminal defense lawyer in Port Royal, SC, consider the following DUI consequences:

Criminal Defense Attorney Port Royal, SC

First Offense


48 hours to 90 days

in jail

with fines ranging from

$400 to $1,000

Second Offense


Five days to three years

in jail

with fines ranging from

$2,100 to $6,500

Third Offense


60 days to five years

in jail

with fines ranging from

$3,800 to $10,000

Additional consequences can include:


Alcohol or Drug Treatment

When convicted of DUI in South Carolina, most offenders must join the Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program. This program mandates that offenders complete a drug and alcohol assessment and follow the recommended treatment options.

 Law Firm Port Royal, SC


Community Service

Some first-time DUI offenders in Port Royal may choose to complete community service in lieu of jail time. Community service hours are usually equal to the length of jail time an offender would be required to serve.

 Criminal Defense Lawyer Port Royal, SC

Sanctions to Your Driver's License

Typically, when a person is convicted of driving under the influence in Port Royal, their driver's license is restricted or suspended. The length of restriction or suspension depends on how many prior DUI convictions an individual has.

First DUI Offense

First-time DUI offenders must endure a six-month license suspension. Drivers convicted with a blood-alcohol level of .15% or more do not qualify for a provisional license. However, sometimes they may still drive using an ignition interlock device.

Second DUI Offense

Offenders convicted of a second DUI charge must use an ignition interlock device (IID) for two years.

Third DUI Offense

Offenders convicted of a third DUI charge must use an ignition interlock device (IID) for three years. That term increases to four years if the driver is convicted of three DUIs in five years.

Immobilized Vehicle

For offenders with two or more convictions, the judge will immobilize their vehicle if it is not equipped with an IID. When a judge immobilizes a vehicle, the owner must turn over their registration and license plate. Clearly, the consequences of receiving a DUI in Port Royal can be life-changing, and not in a good way. The good news is that with CDH Law Firm, you have a real chance at beating your charges and avoiding serious fines and jail time. Every case is different, which is why it's so important that you call our office as soon as possible if you are charged with a DUI.

Traffic Violation Cases

Most drivers brush off traffic law violations as minor offenses, but the fact of the matter is they are criminal matters to be taken seriously. Despite popular opinion, Traffic Violation cases in Port Royal can carry significant consequences like fines and even incarceration. If you or someone you love has been convicted of several traffic offenses, your license could be suspended, restricting your ability to work and feed your family.

Every driver should take Traffic Violations seriously. If you're charged with a traffic crime, it's time to protect yourself and your family with a trusted criminal defense lawyer in Port Royal, SC. Cobb Dill Hammett, LLC is ready to provide the legal guidance and advice you need to beat your traffic charges. We'll research the merits of your case, explain what charges you're facing, discuss your defense options, and strategize an effective defense on your behalf.

Common Port Royal
Traffic Violations That CDH Law
Firm Fights

There are dozens and dozens of traffic laws in Port Royal, all of which affect drivers in some way. Our Port Royal defense attorneys fight a full range of violations, including but not limited to the following:

Criminal Defense Attorney Port Royal, SC
  • Driving Under Suspension: If you drive while your license is suspended, revoked, or canceled, you could be looking at 30 days in jail and fines up to $300.
  • Driving Under the Influence: Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated on drugs or alcohol is illegal and often results in jail time and fines.
  • Reckless Driving: You could be ordered to pay up to $200 in fines or jailed for up to 30 days if you drive with wanton disregard for the safety of other people.
  • Racing: You can be cited and fined if you aid or participate in street racing.
  • Hit and Run: When you leave the scene of an accident that involved injury to another party, you can be arrested. This serious charge can lead to up to one year in jail and fines of up to $5,000 for first-time offenders.
  • Disregard Traffic Signals: Drivers must obey all traffic signals and control devices, less they be ticketed and sometimes fined.

As seasoned traffic violation lawyers, we know how frustrating it can be to get charged with a Traffic Violation. While some traffic charges can be minor, others are severe and can affect your life for years to come. Don't leave your fate up to chance call CDH Law Firm today for the highest-quality Traffic Violation representation in Port Royal.

Juvenile Crime Cases in
Port Royal, SC

At Cobb Dill Hammett, LLC, we understand that children are still growing and learning about the world around them. As such, they may make mistakes that get them into trouble with the law. Children and teens who are arrested in Port Royal can face much different futures than other children their age. Some face intensive probation, while others are made to spend time in jail.

This happens most often when a child's parents fail to retain legal counsel for their son or daughter. Cases referred to the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice often move quicker than adult cases, so finding a good lawyer is of utmost importance. With that said, a compassionate criminal defense attorney in Port Royal, SC, can educate you and your child about their alleged charges. To help prevent your child from going to a detention center, we will devise a strategy to achieve favorable results in their case.

 Law Firm Port Royal, SC
 Criminal Defense Lawyer Port Royal, SC

Juvenile Detention Hearings

Unlike adults, juveniles don't have a constitutional right to a bond hearing. Instead, once your child is taken into custody a Detention Hearing is conducted within 48 hours. This hearing is similar to a combination of a Bond Hearing and a Preliminary Hearing. Unfortunately, there is little time to prepare for these hearings, which is why you must move quickly and call CDH law firm as soon as possible.

Our team gathers police reports, petitions, interviews your child at the DJJ, speaks with you about the case and talks to the prosecutor to discover if they have plans for detention. In most cases, we strive to avoid detention and seek alternatives like divisionary programs or treatment facilities. This strategy better addresses your child's issues and keeps them out of the juvenile legal system in Port Royal. If your child is charged with a crime, and South Carolina decides to prosecute, your child will appear before a family court judge, who will find them delinquent or not delinquent. There are no juries in juvenile cases in South Carolina, which is why it's crucial to have a lawyer present to defend your child if they go in front of a judge.

Common penalties for juveniles charged with crimes in Port Royal include:

Criminal Defense Attorney Port Royal, SC
  • Probation: Children charged with probation are released to their parents or guardians. Depending on their charges, they must abide by certain stipulations while at home and may be subject to random drug screenings. Violation of probation often results in jail time.
  • 90 Days in Juvenile Detention Center: When probation is not a viable option, prosecutors may push for 90 days of jail time in a juvenile detention facility.
  • Juvenile Detention: Children who commit very serious crimes can be sent to a juvenile detention center for a long time. These sentences can last up to the child's 21st birthday.
  • School Expulsion: When a child is convicted of a crime, their school is notified of the offense. Sometimes, the administration may decide to expel the child from school for the misdemeanors or felonies they commit.

We Fight to Protect
Your Rights So You Can
Provide for Your Family

Whether you are facing a DUI charge or a serious traffic violation, CDH Law Firm is here to fight for your rights so you can continue living life. The future might seem bleak, but our criminal defense lawyers in Port Royal, SC, have the tools, experience, and strategy to win your case, as we have with so many others. Don't lose hope call our office today and maintain your freedom tomorrow.

Ask us anything

Call Now 843-936-6680 PH

Latest News in Port Royal, SC

What’s with huge cranes in Port Royal? Residents demand answers and accountability

Residents of Port Royal are turning up the volume in their criticism of a plan to repurpose and beautify an ugly industrial waterfront in Port Royal — a project initially marketed as one of the preeminent residential, commercial and deep water marina ports on the entire East Coast. Meanwhile, the Town Council is consulting with its attorney to see if the plan continues to be in accordance with with the development agreement.Safe Harbor Marinas, the world’s largest marina owner and operator, bought some 2 miles of Port of P...

Residents of Port Royal are turning up the volume in their criticism of a plan to repurpose and beautify an ugly industrial waterfront in Port Royal — a project initially marketed as one of the preeminent residential, commercial and deep water marina ports on the entire East Coast. Meanwhile, the Town Council is consulting with its attorney to see if the plan continues to be in accordance with with the development agreement.

Safe Harbor Marinas, the world’s largest marina owner and operator, bought some 2 miles of Port of Port Royal waterfront almost 2 years ago for $20 million with plans to build what company officials described as a world-class marina and waterfront housing that they said would jibe with the town’s existing neighborhoods. Residents could hardly wait.

Now they’re questioning Safe Harbor plans for all-rental housing in the northern sections of the development. And they are irked by massive cranes scarring the skyline over Battery Creek. Those cranes are working in the areas slated to become the boatyard and marina, but they are assembling docks that have nothing to do with the redevelopment of the former South Carolina Ports Authority property.

“There is no escaping the sight of them,” Tricia Fidrych, a Port Royal resident, said of the cranes. “No matter where you are, you see gargantuan metal industrial structures.”

She says the town needs to hold Safe Harbor’s feet to the fire and that the developer needs to be more transparent with its plans, a view that other residents have shared in recent weeks.

To be sure, Safe Harbor, which did not respond to a request for comment, has done a considerable amount of site preparation, including demolition of old concrete structures that had littered the property and refurbishing some buildings as office space. The developer has also applied for permits for the marina and released a preliminary housing plan. But no physical work has begun yet on the housing or marina or a promenade along the waterfront, a key feature of the project that will give residents access to views along Battery Creek.

The marina and housing are planned on 50 acres of 317 acres Safe Harbor bought in November 2021 from Grey Ghost Properties. At the time of the purchase, Jason Hogg, chief investment officer for Safe Harbor, promised a “world class boating destination.”

“This,” said Fidrych, the resident who complained at two recent Town Council meetings, “is not looking like a world class boating destination.”

Here’s the status of the multiple features of the project and why residents are raising concerns:

Safe Harbor Marina is proposing a full-service marina to provide berthing space for seasonal and transient recreational boaters in the Port Royal area — and those traversing the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

The commercial marina would have 151 dedicated wet slips, 3,284 linear feet of side-tie dockage, 40 floating jet docks and marine utilities, according to information on file with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Health and Control. A floating harbormaster’s office will be located on the floating docks.

The dock plan for the marina has been submitted to the DHEC and the Army Corps of Engineers, Scheaffer Watt, a project manager for Watt Inc., a construction management company working for Safe Harbor, told the Town Council during a meeting in August.

Safe Harbor is now awaiting approval of the dock configuration before proceeding with construction, Watt said.

Meanwhile, huge cranes have been working for months in the boatyard and marina area assembling docks. What bothers residents is that those docks are not for use in the new marina planned in Port Royal. Rather, Safe Harbor Marinas is using the Port Royal property, for now, as a staging area to assemble docks that are shipped for use at other locations under its management. A subcontractor called Harbor Masters that is handling the work has set up an office on Paris Avenue.

“That’s not really what we envisioned looking at indefinitely,” Councilman Darryl Owens said.

Mayor Joe DeVito pressed Watt, the construction manager, for an answer in August on when the marina work would begin and how much longer the work putting together docks for use at other sites would go on in Port Royal. Watt said as soon as the permits are approved, “we will begin to construct those docks” for the Port Royal project.

Safe Harbor Marinas has a temporary use permit from the town to do the work putting together docks, DeVito said. But it has no timeline on how long the work can continue.

Safe Harbor is planning to significantly increase the amount of “dry stack” boat storage and related services needed to service boats.

Unlike traditional wet storage at a marina, dry stack storage involves storing your boats out of the water on racks, which allow them to be stacked on top of each other.

A dry stack building with a 150-boat capacity already exists with docks. Additional outdoor dry stack rack storage is planned that would accommodate another 150 boats.

Safe Harbor has torn down the landmark 48,000-square-foot single-story concrete building on the waterfront that once was the centerpiece of the South Carolina Ports Authority property. It saved the 102,000 square-foot over-water concrete wharf. A hotel is not going in on that terminal slab, said Watt, the construction manager, responding to rumors. Rather, that space will be used as maneuvering space for the marine forklifts that support launching and retrieval of the boats.

A lean-to has been built on the edge of the current dry stack building. That will be divided into 11 spaces for tradesmen that work on boats. For example, a boat could be pulled in and placed on a rack and have detail work done.

The first phase of the housing plans call for around 200 townhouses and some 30 single-family homes on the north end of the site. Charleston-based The Beach Company, which is overseeing the housing portion of the project, said it decided to build rentals because of the unanticipated high cost of preparing the site, which has a steep grade and needs cleanup because of pollution along an old rail line.

The units, even though they would be rented, “would fit the fabric” of Port Royal, company officials have, because they would maintain the community’s high architectural standards. They would be rented with annual leases.

Residents and council members are not buying the argument that “build-to-rent” units are necessary because of the contamination issues. And a project entirely made up of rental units would not fit the fabric of the town, they add.

“If you literally cannot put down roots because of soil contamination and metaphorically you cannot put down roots because ‘we are hoping for at least a year’s lease’ how does that fit the fabric of Port Royal?,” said Fidrych, the Port Royal resident, calling the housing a “wall of townhouses.”

At the close of a work session last Wednesday, the five-member Town Council voted to close the doors to the public. The stated purpose was to get legal advice “related to Port of Port Royal Development Agreement and PUD (Planned Unit Development).”

“We had our attorney go through the development agreement and say where they (Safe Harbor Marinas) are in relationship to the development agreement,” said Mayor DeVito, adding he could not share details of what was said.

The development agreement between Port Royal and Safe Harbor says construction on the marina, Bluff neighborhood and promenade should commence between 2021 and 2023, with the entire development anticipated to take place over 5 to 7 years. Housing demand and the economy could affect the schedule, the agreement says.

The development agreement is a master conceptual plan of what the property should look like, with timelines, and a guiding master plan for the developer, said DeVito.

A planned unit development, another document, is guiding the specifics of each of the different areas within the property, DeVito said. Those development areas are Ribaut and Bluff villages, where the residential housing is planned; Marina Village, which includes the marina and boatyard; Port Village, which allows mixed uses including a hotel and restaurants; and civic open space.

The concerns are being raised as an election for mayor looms Nov. 7.

Councilman Kevin Phillips, who is running against DeVito for mayor, said the town needs to use the tools in the development agreement and the PUD “to hold Safe Harbor accountable.” “We just need to be tougher on them,” he says. Safe Harbor, he says, is “trying to bamboozle us” on the rental housing, and taking advantage of the town by using the port to build marina docks for others. That work, he says, should be stopped until Safe Harbor and the town sit down and have a conversation on how to move forward.

For his part, DeVito said town officials and legal council continue to review the situation.

“We’re doing our annual review and making sure they are following and meeting all of the deadlines that are required and we will continue collaborative negotiations to obtain the development that fits the fabric of Port Royal,” DeVito said.

Safe Harbor’s purchase of the property from Grey Ghost Properties in December 2021 was welcomed initially, DeVito said, because it had deeper pockets.

But it’s been almost 2 years since the sale and the town is concerned about how long it is taking for some of the components of the development to get going, particularly the residential, DeVito added.

“It just seems to take a little longer than we all would like,” DeVito said.

Nothing can be built on the property until specific “master plans” are submitted to the town for each of the multiple sections of the property, which carry different uses and requirements, DeVito said.

The town recently removed its crumbling old shrimp docks with plans to replace the docks with a new configuration. After talking with shrimpers, the town is looking at floating docks with a fender system rather than a fixed pier, said Van Willis, the town’s manager. The dock also will be positioned farther out into the channel giving the boats more maneuverability.

“It will be more suitable for the use,” Councilman Jerry Ashmore said.

This story was originally published October 9, 2023, 3:21 PM.

Port Royal’s new mayor demands answers, action on port development

PORT ROYAL — Mayor Kevin Phillips pulled no punches when he addressed a letter to Safe Harbor Marinas enumerating a long list of concerns about the current state of development of the town’s port.Safe Harbor purchased the 317-acre site along Battery Creek just over two years ago from the prior owner, Grey Ghost Properties, LLC. The purchase wa...

PORT ROYAL — Mayor Kevin Phillips pulled no punches when he addressed a letter to Safe Harbor Marinas enumerating a long list of concerns about the current state of development of the town’s port.

Safe Harbor purchased the 317-acre site along Battery Creek just over two years ago from the prior owner, Grey Ghost Properties, LLC. The purchase was completed in two transactions totaling $20.5 million, according to county records.

Phillips noted in his Dec. 14 letter that Safe Harbor’s purchase was announced with great fanfare and said residents viewed the transaction as a welcome change after years of wasted opportunity by the property’s prior owners. Plans were made to develop a first-class marina that included residential and commercial elements.

Since that time, the relationship between the town and developer/owner appears to have soured, at least for the moment.

“Despite the initial momentum, the town is concerned about the lack of quantifiable development and unequivocally opposes plans to develop the residential portions of the project as build to rent,” Phillips wrote in the six-page letter addressed to Peter Clark, chief development officer for Safe Harbor Marinas.

Shortly after he was sworn in as mayor on Dec. 13, Phillips moved the Town Council in executive session to discuss matters relating to development of the port. At the conclusion of the closed-door session, Council announced that a letter outlining their concerns had been authorized, but the contents of the letter were not made public until several days later.

“In the short term, the town needs an accurate assessment of the timeline for the marina development, as it impacts the surrounding properties,” Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis told The Post and Courier.

The property’s development plan exists between the town and Safe Harbor and requires residential development, which Safe Harbor does not do. To close that gap, they engaged a Charleston-based firm, The Beach Company.

A representative of The Beach Company presented its plan for the project’s residential component during an Aug. 9, 2023 Town Council meeting. It called for a build-to-rent neighborhood with 205 townhomes and 34 single-family homes.

“That took the council by surprise. It took the people by surprise. I haven’t met a single person in Port Royal that thinks the plan is a good idea,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to get this right.”

J.R. Darby of The Beach Company said at the time that the economics of the development necessitated the build-to-rent plan, adding that the infrastructure costs were high and the market was small. Driving some of that cost, he said, was the presence of contaminated soil on the site. According to the company, the state would only allow rental properties to be built on that soil, a position that the town has since challenged.

Phillips in his letter asked a number of questions trying to establish whether Safe Harbor had looked for other development options.

“We’re asking, ‘Why are you so wed to them in this plan?’ There are other developers out there. There are other plans out there,” he said.

Town Manager Van Willis said that concerns with Safe Harbor’s approach to date haven’t been limited to the members of the council.

“Our residents are clearly concerned about the build to rent concept for the bluff, so we want to understand if all potential avenues for development of this unique property were explored,” Willis said.

Other issues outlined in the letter include securing Safe Harbor’s cooperation for town projects planned in conjunction with the marina development. The projects include building a commercial dock, building a seafood processing plant and completing construction of the Spanish Moss Trail through the property.

Funding exists, Phillips said, for these projects, but progress has been hampered by inaction on Safe Harbor’s part.

For each of the issues raised, Phillips provided a date by which an answer from Safe Harbor is expected.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces to the development and every single one of them is important,” Phillips said. “So far, they’ve talked about the marina and this build-to-rent neighborhood.”

Reached for comment by email, Clark said that Safe Harbor and its partners are eager to continue development in Port Royal but require support from the town to advance the project.

Hilton Head

Phillips set Jan. 12, 2024 as a due date for several of the central issues detailed in his letter. Despite those concerns, his goal is a successful, cooperative relationship with Safe Harbor.

“This port will define Port Royal going forward,” Phillips said. “It’s massively important. We want it to be as good as it can be. That’s our position.”

Sands Beach named ‘one of a kind’ in South Carolina

We’ve all known about The Sands Beach in Port Royal and now the word is getting out because of a recent online article by the online magazine, Only In Your little gem of a spot is home to several events hosted by the Town of Port Royal and others. It’s a great spot for sunbathing, finding sharks teeth, relaxing walks, fishing and lots more.And now the word is out.“South Carolina’s coastline is chalk-full of hidden beaches that only locals know about,” and “one of those fa...

We’ve all known about The Sands Beach in Port Royal and now the word is getting out because of a recent online article by the online magazine, Only In Your

Our little gem of a spot is home to several events hosted by the Town of Port Royal and others. It’s a great spot for sunbathing, finding sharks teeth, relaxing walks, fishing and lots more.

And now the word is out.

“South Carolina’s coastline is chalk-full of hidden beaches that only locals know about,” and “one of those fantastically hidden beaches is located in the Town of Port Royal,” the article said.

“The Sands beach may be the only one of its kind in South Carolina. At this fun little getaway, you can picnic right out of your car while you soak up some summer sun and swim, or search for shells or sharks teeth.”

Yep, you’re allowed to bring your car right out onto the edge of the sand and park it there, but not on the actual beach.

The article explained just exactly what The Sands is, for those who may not know.

“The Sands is a tidal beach, but it’s not oceanfront, so you don’t have to worry about riptides or huge waves. But you should bring beach shoes for the water,” the article said.

They are on point with that. Shoes are definitely important at The Sands because of the razor sharp clusters of oyster shells that are present everywhere.

The article goes on to mention the boardwalk as a fantastic picturesque walk along Battery Creek that’s great for dolphin watching; and the observation tower as a spot with a super view and also a perfect location to see sunrises and sunsets.

One more important thing the article mentions about The Sands…..the tides.

“If parking at the beach, you should always be aware of the tide schedule, especially during a full moon, when high tides are even higher than normal,” it said.

Yep. That’s important. Lots of folks have gotten stuck out at The Sands in their vehicles when not anticipating the tides.

Port Royal, and locals have all known for a long time that there was something special there. And, now, the word is definitely out.

See the full article here.

Read more about The Sands here.

Port Royal Mayoral candidates face off: Development and land use are hot topics

The town of Port Royal may be viewed as a small waterfront hamlet to some but the issues facing the 14,000 residents mirror similar challenges vexing much bigger east coast cities. Development, preservation and environmental concerns clearly have become the breakout issues of this election.Monday night at the town’s elementary school in front of more than 100 residents, Mayor Joe DeVito and challenger Kevin Phillips presented their approaches to handing these topics including water and land use along Battery Creek, which has bec...

The town of Port Royal may be viewed as a small waterfront hamlet to some but the issues facing the 14,000 residents mirror similar challenges vexing much bigger east coast cities. Development, preservation and environmental concerns clearly have become the breakout issues of this election.

Monday night at the town’s elementary school in front of more than 100 residents, Mayor Joe DeVito and challenger Kevin Phillips presented their approaches to handing these topics including water and land use along Battery Creek, which has become a lightning rod of local controversy since progress and planning for the Safe Harbor Marinas project has slid behind a veil of secrecy in recent months.

The moderated discussion lasted an hour and the two candidates for the town’s highest office responded to questions from a panel chosen by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, which organized the forum.

The candidates painted two very different pictures of the way forward. Topics included affordable housing, the future of military installations and improvements to Ribaut Road. All of those issues paled to the 800-pound gorilla in the room: looming and immediate questions regarding the waterfront development plans and how the town should manage this process in the next few months.

DeVito is running for a second four-year mayoral term. Phillips was elected to the council four years ago. DeVito touted his experience including 18 years on the Planning Commission, saying he offered “true leadership” and had moved the needle over the past four years when it comes to progress. Phillips touted a new vision and procedures and policies for the town and “a better way.”

Challenger Phillips suggested a “pause” should be placed on new large-scale residential and commercial development. He cites that the town already has enough apartment complexes and storage units. A development moratorium, he said, would allow the community that prides itself on its proximity to the local waters to study its codes as well as affordable housing and areas that should be considered for preservation. Residents, Phillips said, “have a say in this community and (they) should be heard about that.”

DeVito said he’s willing to discuss how a moratorium would impact the community but he called the idea a “slippery slope” that he likely would vote against. Stopping development would affect every resident in town, he noted. And it would not just affect tax revenue upon which the town relies but also people with jobs with the companies involved in development and building. People willing to invest in the town, he added, may walk away and never return. Also, if you pick what can and can’t be built in town without providing a good reason, it opens up the town to lawsuits, DeVito said.

“We have to have a real reason for a moratorium,” DeVito said.

Phillips countered that he just wanted to get a conversation started. He argued that residents feel as if they are not being heard when it comes to the way the town is being developed. “I personally do not believe it (the dialogue) cannot be done,” Phillips said.

The candidates were asked if the redevelopment of the port property along Battery Creek is on the right track and the pair’s answers provided another difference in approach.

Safe Harbor Marinas is developing about 50 acres of waterfront along Battery Creek with a marina and housing. Those plans have been criticized recently. Residents have raised concerns about The Beach Company’s plan to build 200 rental townhomes and single-family dwellings. The Beach Company is in negotiations with Safe Harbor to purchase land where the housing is planned. Residents have raised concerns about how industrial the waterfront currently appears, especially the presence of the large cranes Safe Harbor Marinas is using to assemble docks that will be used at other far away sites they operate.

Phillips said he doesn’t like how Safe Harbor has treated the town since it bought the property two years ago. The town has been a good partner, he said, “And you can see how we’ve been treated.” He said he worries about the Beach Company’s “build to rent” project. Each day the town waits, he said, The Beach Company is getting closer to closing on the property with Safe Harbor. Once they close on the property, he predicted, they will listen to whoever is financing the project, not the town. “The longer we wait the worse the situation gets,” Phillips said.

DeVito addressed the topic by saying nobody likes the direction of the housing plans are going and the town council members have voiced their opinions about it. The question, he said, is how the town goes about making a change to the plans. The town needs to negotiate and be ready to get tougher if necessary. This area of Port Royal should be developed with single family homes where people can walk down the street. Safe Harbor will get to know that “in a very strong way, possibly this week,” said DeVito, hinting that the town was planning something.

Ian Scott, the CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce, calling the port redevelopment “a hot topic of conversation,” followed up, asking what concrete steps the town should be taking right now to ensure the project is successful.

Phillips said the town should put pressure on Safe Harbor’s Marina plans because that’s mainly why they are in Port Royal. If you don’t like the housing plans, he said, the town needs to push against the marina plans.

DeVito said there “are tools in the tool box we ready to deploy.” The town, he added, must keep the attorneys out of the situation “as long as possible.”

The candidates were asked what they would change about zoning or development.

Devito said the town needs more job-creating commercial development along its highway corridors, which may require zoning changes.

Phillips said more transparency is needed in the development process. Residents are frustrated and ask “what’s going on” when developments seem to pop up out of nowhere, Phillips said. Sometimes, he added, even council members are surprised by projects. Phillips said he’d like to see more public input and notice especially when it comes to larger projects.

DeVito countered that there is a chance for public comments at Design Review Board meetings which are publicly posted and open to the public.

The candidates were asked about what they would do to protect Port Royal’s location so close to the valued resource of Battery Creek. Phillips’ answer reiterated his ‘development moratorium’ theme as a good first step in identifying lands that require protection.

DeVito said addressing environmental concerns start with getting rid of the remaining septic systems in the area and getting them on the public sewer system. He also pushed for developing greater control of storm water runoff. Finally, he mentioned that overbuilding is an issue the town needs to keep on close watch.

This story was originally published October 17, 2023, 1:01 PM.

Safe Harbor draws ire of Port Royal residents by skipping meeting and blocking access

For some 20 years, the town of Port Royal has been waiting to see the underutilized industrial property abutting Battery Creek turned into a gem. Even when the port property was still owned by South Carolina Ports Authority, the town began preparing a vision that might include a marina, housing, restaurants, public parks and a promenade.Finally, in 2017, Grey Ghost Properties LLC bought it and put together a master plan. Anticipation grew. Then, in late 2021, Grey Ghost ...

For some 20 years, the town of Port Royal has been waiting to see the underutilized industrial property abutting Battery Creek turned into a gem. Even when the port property was still owned by South Carolina Ports Authority, the town began preparing a vision that might include a marina, housing, restaurants, public parks and a promenade.

Finally, in 2017, Grey Ghost Properties LLC bought it and put together a master plan. Anticipation grew. Then, in late 2021, Grey Ghost sold the project to well-heeled Safe Harbor Marinas, setting the stage for the town’s vision to become reality.

But residents haven’t been happy with what they’ve seen so far from Safe Harbor and that concern came to a head at a meeting Wednesday. Safe Harbor had been invited to give an update but it was a no-show, which riled up residents even more. Also aggravating the mood of the town are trespassing signs that Safe Harbor recently put up on the narrow 2-mile stretch of waterfront where the marina and housing are planned. For years, residents have enjoyed access to portions of the port property and the waterfront, even though it’s technically not public. Residents took the signs as a rebuke from Safe Harbor over recent criticism of its plans.

Council members — including Mayor Joe DeVito and Councilman Kevin Phillips, the town’s candidates for mayor — expressed, at length, their own concerns with the progress of the project. DeVito and Phillips explained what their approach would be to lead the town forward. The election is Nov. 7.

And for the second time in two weeks, the Town Council went into executive session to discuss the town’s development agreement with Safe Harbor Marina. That agreement spells out what’s expected from the project.

Tricia Fidrych, a Port Royal resident, received hearty applause when she said liability issues may have prompted Safe Harbor to put up the no trespassing signs on the impressive property “but the message conveyed by those signs is undeniable.”

It was “deeply disappointing,” Fidrych added, that Safe Harbor was not at the meeting with a presentation. She called it a lost opportunity to respond to concerns raised by residents and to share a timeline and details. Those concerns include a preliminary housing plan that would feature all rental townhomes and single family homes. Large cranes that are in use to assemble docks on the Port Royal site – for use at other sites that Safe Harbor manages – also are sticking in the craw of residents.

“What happened to the dream?” said Barbara Berry, another resident. “What happened to what we thought was going to come here because it’s not coming.”

A friend of hers, she said, was on the road in the area known as The Bluff looking at the sunset when a black SUV drove up and told her to leave. Port Royal, she said, is a walking community.

“I’m just incredibly sad and disappointed,” Berry said.

Residents want to know what’s going on with the development, which will define the community, including its aesthetic and property values, Gail Tramontano said. Transparency, she added, builds trust.

“But secrecy builds contempt and I think that’s a very important issue to be addressed,” Tramontano said. “I really feel the council should be on top of it and holding Safe Harobr accountable with what they are doing.”

Mayor DeVito called the plans for the port property “one of the most important developments for the town of Port Royal.”

He knows everybody is disappointed, he said. The council is too. “But we’re not done,” DeVito said. “We’re just getting started.”

DeVito added that he wanted to “put some real facts on the table” so residents understand what’s going on.

First, he said, the plan for the all-rental housing was put forth by The Beach Company, which is handling the housing portion of the development, and not Safe Harbor.

“They are doing, at this point of time, what I call fishing,” DeVito said. “And we voiced our opinions to them very loudly about what they proposed. Now we have to see what they come back with.”

DeVito emphasized that the project at this time is in the preliminary stages and the town has issued no permits to build anything. The moment somebody asks for a permit, then provisions of the development agreement and planned unit development documents will kick in, DeVito said.

The trespassing signs, DeVito added, are disappointing to the entire council, which found out by email that the signs were going up. But Safe Harbor does own the property, he added.

The town, DeVito said, is not afraid of legal action if it comes to that, but having conversations with Safe Harbor is a better approach than being adversarial and getting the lawyers involved.

The town, DeVito said, is coming up on 20 years of trying to find somebody to develop the port property and it took 17 years for the Ports Authority to sell it. In the past two years, he noted, Safe Harbor has invested more money than anybody else. Safe Harbor, he said, was a willing partner on a land exchange in which the town was able to secure a public park in a better location.

Phillips, who is running against DeVito, said the town has been nice — and good neighbors — to Safe Harbor, which has not worked.

“When you are dealing with a bully, they only understand one thing,” Phillips said.

The town has tools at its disposal and should use them, he said.

In response to the trespassing signs, Phillips suggested that the town hold sunset parties every night at the end of 13th Street, which leads to the waterfront and past Safe Harbor property. “See you all out there,” he said.

Van Willis, town manager, said property records show that the public right-of-way extending from 13th Street ends at the rail corridor, short of the waterfront. But the town was still verifying that as of Thursday morning.

This story was originally published October 12, 2023, 12:55 PM.


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