Hilton Head SC sued to protect historic cemetery

A Hilton Head church and local landowners are fighting to save Talbird Cemetery, which they say is threatened by a development on its doorstep.

Mount Calvary Mission Baptist Church and The Grandview on Skull Creek Property Owners Association are suing the City of Hilton Head to stop development from encroaching on the historic cemetery.

The tiny Gullah Cemetery – located in the Hilton Head Plantation with graves dating back to the 1870s – is still in use today, with an average of eight funerals per year, according to Julius Bryan, a Mount Calvary representative. If townhouse development continues as planned, it will block access to the cemetery.

Charles Curl of the Homeowners Association gave this account:

Historically, Talbird Cemetery has had a road following its southern border. When Grandview Condos were built in 2003, there were plans for three buildings, but only two were built. The space for the third has been left undeveloped, so far.

In 2006, the undeveloped land was sold to SGC Associates, and in 2019 Grandview and Mount Calvary saw their plans for further development, according to Curl. These plans represented a 20-foot easement to allow access to the cemetery.

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Progress on the townhouses can be seen from inside Talbird Cemetery. Sebastian Lee

However, the plans were changed in 2021 without the knowledge of the church and the owners. These new plans show the townhouse lots extending to the southern boundary of the cemetery, leaving only a small easement that would not allow vehicles, including a hearse, to enter the cemetery.

“The only way to get back there, with a body, is through vehicles,” Bryan said.

In addition to affecting funerals, it will also make it difficult for service vehicles, such as fire engines, to reach the back of Grandview, according to Curl.

“There’s no other way for us to access the back of our buildings than this way,” Curl said. “So we’re dependent on that access, as well as church access to the cemetery.”

Mount Calvary and the Grandview Homeowners Association filed a lawsuit on June 29 against SGC Associates, the developer, The Skull Creek Club, the City of Hilton Head Island, Waterway Development Associates and SHM Skull Creek, LLC.

They claim in the lawsuit that SGC tricked Mount Calvary’s board into signing plans that would restrict the church’s access to the cemetery.

In March 2021, SGC approached Bryan about the right to prune tree branches on the cemetery grounds. In exchange, parking spaces would be made available for the funeral. Later, Bryan signed papers believing he agreed to the previous branch discussion. No maps or diagrams were included, according to Bryan.

Byran said he asked about access and was told “everything was going to be the same” and that he would never have signed if it hadn’t been. When the developers brought their plans to the city, they gave them the documents signed by Bryan, which were now signed by witnesses who were not present, according to Bryan, and the updated 2021 map. Not only that , but despite the signatures dated June 2021, an amendment to the plan is dated August.

Boundary markers seen behind the sign for Talbird Sebastian Lee Cemetery

The developer could not be reached for comment.

In February, the group sent a complaint about the issue to the city of Hilton Head, but received no response for three months, only to be told it was too late to appeal, according to Curl. The lawsuit claims the city was negligent in not investigating the complaint.

“The municipality has just received the complaint [the lawsuit] on Talbird Cemetery this week and will review it with City Council,” Carolyn Grant, Hilton Head Island’s communications director, said in a statement. “Due to the legal nature of the matter, we are unable to comment further.”

As of now, construction has begun on the side of the cemetery bordering Waterway Lane.

Many graves in Talbird Cemetery date from before the turn of the century. Some dating from the 1800s. Sebastien Lee

“And so while we’ve been waiting for the city, the developer has made progress in its development,” Curl said. “And he’s reached a point now where he’s weeks away from getting permission to start on the other side.”

However, after the complaint was filed in February, the group was in negotiations with the developer, who said they could only provide a 20ft easement, if 5ft were taken from inside the cemetery boundaries. . The group refused.

Instead, the group requested a 50-foot all-weather easement for the cemetery. Under current development plans, this would be impossible, they say.

Worker’s trash can on the grounds of Talbird Sebastian Lee Cemetery

This story was originally published July 8, 2022 2:38 p.m.

Larry D. Stahl