A three-year-old property dispute between Beaufort County and a Bluffton woman now running for County Council may be headed toward resolution.
Cynthia Bensch, a candidate for the seat in newly drawn District 7, says the county has signaled it might be willing to settle the case, which followed the county's acquisition of 3.3 acres her family owned near Buckingham Plantation Road to build part of Bluffton Parkway.
"It looks like everyone is ready to stop chit-chatting and get serious about a resolution," she said Friday.
Beaufort County attorney Josh Gruber declined to comment last week about a possible settlement.
The case began in June 2009, when the county took land owned by Towne Center LLC through eminent domain to build a section of the Bluffton Parkway. At issue is the value of the property, not the county's authority to take the land.
In legal documents, the county asserted the property it needed for Bluffton Parkway was worth $321,000. But the Bensches cited a $3.79 million figure offered by an appraiser they hired.
After numerous procedural filings, a jury determined in January 2012 the property was worth $1.65 million. The county indicated in February it planned to appeal the jury award.
Bensch said her family bought the entire 10.17-acre parcel near Buckingham Plantation Road in 1997 for about $2 million.
The Bensches nearly sold the tract before the eminent-domain issue arose, and Bensch said another prospect has recently come along. She pleaded with the County Council on June 11 for resolution so the sale could move forward.
"It's hard to sell something when you can't tell exactly what the development rights are," she said. "That's what we're trying to negotiate with the county."
Bensch is the only candidate running in District 7, which was redrawn after the 2010 census to cover parts of Bluffton around Rose Hill and Buckwalter.
County administrator Gary Kubic said council members must recuse themselves from matters in which they have personal interest. Otherwise, the pending court case wouldn't affect her ability to serve.
"If council needs to act on some facet of it, Mrs. Bensch will not be permitted to be a part of that process," he said.
Bensch, whose four-year term on the S.C. Election Commission ended in December, said the legal fight did not influence her decision to run for County Council.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.
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