Work still needed to become developer-friendly

Published 10:03 am Saturday, October 15, 2022

City Manager Jonathan Russell said last week that Washington was making improvements to become more “developer friendly.”

This is music to the ears of local businesses, professionals and residents frustrated by a lack residential housing and a growing reputation of the city for being anything but.

Russell pointed to some promising numbers — 424 platted homes waiting to be built in the City of Washington, the most activity since he became city manager four years ago.

That certainly comes as welcome news for the seven new and existing subdivisions where the homes are planned.

Perhaps none more than Powell Place, where a lawsuit and consent judgement was necessary to grant developers Bill and Dale Peele the ability to move forward with construction of 20 new homes at the former location of the Washington Racquet Club.

The Peeles were rejected by city council in their first request to build 18 homes at the site, even though the planning board recommended its approval.

When council told the Peeles they need to revise their proposal to reduce the number of homes, they did so.

And after receiving a favorable recommendation by the planning board for a second time, council denied their request again.

After a decision by Beaufort County Superior Court to reverse the denial of the subdivision was appealed by the city, the Peeles filed a lawsuit.

A consent judgement settling the case required the city to vote in favor of the subdivision (now to include 20 homes) and pay the Peeles $50,000.

That vote, set forth by the judgement, passed with a lone dissenting vote from Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Brooks. Mayor Donald Sadler recused himself from votes on the subdivision after a petition against it surfaced showing the signatures of Sadler and his wife. They live in a neighborhood adjacent to the property.

Washington has enjoyed some strong momentum recently, particularly downtown with completion of the city-scape project and other commercial developments.

It’s unfortunate to see that stained by the way the Powell Place subdivision was handled.

Let’s hope it will serve as a wake-up call for council and as motivation for city leaders like Russell, who understand the value of residential growth as it relates to the local economy and have made efforts to market the city to recruit new businesses and residents.

As long as developers feel they could be subject to arbitrary decisions by city government, Washington will never reach its full potential.