St. Helena community files motions in developer's appeal to build three six-hole golf courses
A golf course is a golf course no matter how small — that’s the cry on Saint Helena Island as a developer continues to push his plans despite a decades-old zoning law.
Conservationists and community members on South Carolina's St. Helena Island have filed motions to intervene as they try to defend the island from development, they say, threatens the existence of Gullah Geechee people.
In June, the Beaufort County Council upheld a decades-old zoning law by denying developer Elvio Tropeano’s request to build an 18-hole golf course on 500 acres he purchased known as Pine Island. The cultural protection overlay law prohibits golf courses, resorts and gated communities on Saint Helena.
Tropeano has also proposed building three six-hold golf courses on separate parcels of his land. Conservationists call it an attempt to circumvent the zoning law, and the county planning commission said no to that idea in June as well.
The 35-year-old developer has since sued the county for upholding the law, questioning its legality. And he’s appealing the planning commission’s denial of the three smaller courses.
Now two property owners, the Gullah Geechee Sea Island Coalition, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, the Penn Center and the Coastal Conservation League have filed motions, seeking to intervene and uphold the planning commission’s decision.
“Decades ago, the St. Helena community made clear that its vision for the island’s future was a place where generations of Gullah/Geechee families could continue to sustain their rich farming, hunting and fishing culture,” said the Coastal Conservation League in a statement.
“This vision does not include golf courses, gated communities and resort developments, which threaten to destroy the cultural way of life for this community, as has occurred on Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands.”
A hearing on the motions is scheduled for August 29 at the Beaufort County Courthouse.
South Carolina Public Radio reached out to Tropeano for comment on the filings, but he did not respond. He has previously said he knew about the cultural overlay protection law when he bought the property and planned to design his golf course in a way that would benefit the community. He says it would educate visitors and raise money for Gullah Geechee people.
But if he can’t build a golf course, Tropeano says he’ll be forced to make good on his investment by building more than 160 luxury homes.
Many Gullah Geechee people fear high-priced homes will raise property taxes and force them out and worry golf course chemicals could pollute the waterways they fish. They want the land that has sustained them for nearly 200 years the way it is.
These direct descendants of enslaved Africans have lived on St. Helena since after the Civil War when their ancestors bought property plantation owners fled. They've maintained their distinct language, culture and African traditions.