Former Beaufort Co. official sues county administrator, council. He wants his $405 back

·3 min read

For three months last summer, Beaufort County’s former planning director pleaded with county officials to build a botanical garden on a 50-acre swath in Yemassee.

The county unanimously rejected his proposal in September.

Now Tony Criscitiello, who served as the county’s planning director from 2000 to 2018, has filed suit against the County Council and County Administrator Eric Greenway. He said the county broke the law by not holding a public hearing. The council rejected his plans in executive session prior to a public vote, he said.

Criscitiello wants a magistrate judge to force both parties to pay him back the money he spent to prepare and advertise his proposal for a garden and environmental education center.

He wants his $405 back. He has beer to buy.

“In short, I paid for a service and did not get it!” Criscitiello wrote in his Dec. 1 complaint.

He had asked Beaufort County to codify in its comprehensive plan the environmental education center at Bindon Plantation along the Pocotaligo River and Stoney Creek in Yemassee. The county did not follow proper procedure when it voted against it, he said.

Criscitiello, reached by phone Thursday, said his situation begs the question: Does citizen participation matter in local government?

“If this can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” he said. “I can accept any answer like ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ but I cannot accept silence. Silence is not an answer.”

Beaufort County Council and Greenway, in a response filed earlier this month, broadly denied Criscitiello’s allegations and asked a judge to throw out the case.

A magistrate judge from outside Beaufort County will hear the case Feb. 9.

County spokesperson Chris Ophardt, reached by phone, said the county would let the complaint play out in court.

Bindon Plantation sits along the ACE Basin
Bindon Plantation sits along the ACE Basin

Criscitiello, in his pleas to the county, argued that an environmental center and botanical garden would be the most logical uses for an undeveloped section of Bindon Plantation, off U.S. 17. The property is protected under a conservation easement adjacent to a planned 20-home neighborhood.

The county would pay for the center using roughly $95,000 from its rural and critical lands fund as well as grants and development fees from the property owner, according to Criscitiello’s plans.

“Why not dream a big dream and build a world class facility that attracts some of the thousands of motorist that travel Highway 17 daily,” Criscitiello wrote in his proposal. “Remember, where there is no vision, the people will perish. Let us not let that happen any longer.”

But the county was not on board. It does not own the land and did not have enough money to pay for the center, officials said in September.

Criscitiello said he learned that the county’s natural resources committee had rejected his proposal in executive session June 7 without a public vote or his knowledge. Three months later, on Sept. 13, the full County Council unanimously voted against the plans in public.

Beaufort County went along without Criscitiello’s botanical garden and approved its new comprehensive plan Nov. 8. The document guides planning, zoning and development decisions for the next 20 years.

Criscitiello said the council and Greenway owe him $250 for drafting and advertising the amendment, $75 in register of deeds fees and $80 in magistrate court fees.

Asked what he plans to buy with the money if he wins, Criscitiello was frank: “Beer.”

He drinks Clausthaler Non-Alcoholic.

“They’re $9.50 for a six-pack,” he said. “So divide $405 by $9.50, that’s how many.”

Beaufort County, according to his estimate, may be on the hook for 42 six-packs.

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