It’s official: Judge gives landmark Hilton Head produce stand an eviction date. Here’s why

·3 min read

Carolina Seafood, the well-known produce stand located alongside U.S. 278 that’s been serving locals and tourists since 1980, has until Sept. 9 to vacate the property, a judge ruled Monday.

The business is being removed due to a breach of contract. Owner Wesley Campbell’s lease agreement with Beaufort County ended Jan. 31, 2020, according to documents from the County Council obtained by The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. But the produce and seafood stand was granted several extensions and allowed to stay open.

Campbell did not pay any rent to lease the location, which is owned by the county. The site near the Bluffton Flyover has never been zoned for commercial business.

Judge Angela McCall-Tanner took testimony from both sides during a court hearing, then issued Campbell a writ of ejectment, ordering him to remove his stand from the property. The extension was set so Campbell could experience one last influx of tourist customers before Labor Day, McCall-Tanner said.

“There’s absolutely no question that you have community support. They love your business. You’ve been there for years. ... And there’s no question that you and your family are beloved in this county,” Judge McCall-Tanner said during her final decision. “But in this case, it does come down to the fact that the law is not necessarily on your side.”

Campbell has operated the stand at that location since 1980.

“Considering the icon that the stand has been, I would like to see it leave with dignity,” she told Campbell.

Carolina Seafood is being evicted from the site where it has operated for more than 40 years.
Carolina Seafood is being evicted from the site where it has operated for more than 40 years.

Why is the county taking action now?

Although Carolina Seafood’s lease agreement ended in early 2020, the county granted Campbell a number of extensions — totaling more than two years — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, county spokesman Chris Ophardt said.

“We think we’ve been fair,” Ophardt told The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette.

The decision to finally vacate Campbell’s lease came as a result of pending litigation against the county. After residents of the Buckingham Landing neighborhood on Hilton Head Island filed a lawsuit against Beaufort County, claiming the operation of the Daufuskie Island ferry is in violation of the neighborhood’s zoning, the county is now taking action to ensure all zoning laws are being followed.

Carolina Seafood is part of the Buckingham Landing Community Preservation District. The district, created in 1997 at the request of local property owners, is meant to uphold strict development standards, hoping to achieve “customized land use” for the county, said Brittany Ward, deputy county attorney.

The permitted uses within Buckingham Landing’s preservation district are “primarily residential,” according to Beaufort County’s Community Development Code. Although the area allows certain commercial facilities — such as home-based businesses or bed and breakfasts — most for-profit developments, including roadside stands, are prohibited.

“The county understands Carolina [Seafood] is considered by some tourists and residents as a landmark,” Ward said. “The county is responsible for not only creating laws but also enforcing and adhering to the law. Unfortunately, the location of [the produce stand] is in proximity to a right of way. It is encumbered by zoning regulations created by the local community. Both prohibit commercial businesses.”

Wesley Campbell sits outside the new location for his family-owned business Carolina Seafood & Produce on U.S. 278 just before Old Wild Horse Road as seen on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, on Hilton Head Island.
Wesley Campbell sits outside the new location for his family-owned business Carolina Seafood & Produce on U.S. 278 just before Old Wild Horse Road as seen on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, on Hilton Head Island.

Campbell said he understands the county’s right to remove his stand. However, he still believes he has been treated unfairly.

“We’ve been pushed aside for years,” he said of longtime Hilton Head natives and members of the Gullah people.

“If that fruit stand was a Burger King, McDonald’s or a Walmart, do you think we would have to relocate?” Campbell said during his testimony. “I’ve never seen it happen.”

Barry Ginn, a longtime friend and former employer of Campbell’s who was called as his witness, echoed Campbell’s testimony.

“The natives in Beaufort County are a dying breed,” he said. “What’s going on here is a travesty.”

Campbell said he plans to remove the stand before Labor Day and already has plans for future developments.

“We will continue” to operate, he told a reporter.