DARIEN — During the 50th annual Blessing of the Fleet earlier this month, the usual viewing spots were available on the U.S. Highway 17 bridge, on the public docks and the bluff overlooking the Darien River.
The bridge views will likely be unavailable for a couple of years as the Georgia Department of Transportation replaces the span, but ultimately some people will have some prime spots to watch from the balconies of condos Arthur Lucas plans to build on former development authority property.
Lucas Properties LLC plans for the downtown bluffs on the Darien River to include a multi-story condominium complex on what had been the offices of the Chamber of Commerce and the McIntosh County Industrial Development Authority, and a boutique hotel where a jellyfish processing facility sat. Owner Arthur Lucas said there will also be a restaurant and some retail shops.
Lucas said the first phase would be a dozen condominium units and that he is hopeful construction will start July 1 and be complete in a year to 14 months with the 40- to 50-room hotel following.
“It’s going to change Darien, we hope, for the better,’’ he said.
Those who attended town hall meetings on the project were mostly positive and were, Lucas said, “excited about the growth opportunity.”
Some of the opposition came from those who simply don’t like change and others who don’t want to lose access to what was public property.
“There’s one guy who said, ‘I like to walk my dog there,’’’ Lucas said.
He predicts his development will help create some employment opportunities where there are few.
“In this county, the young people leave. There are no jobs,’’ he said.
He’s one who left the area, and after a career in commercial real estate in Atlanta, came home.
“I got a chance to come back to God’s country. We’ve been in discussion two years,’’ on this project, he said.
As for those who oppose change, some things will remain, including the amphitheater, seating, walkways and public docks. The preliminary drawings show the historic tabby ruins will stay. Although City Manager Tim Sweezey expressed some concern, he added, “We expect them to be true to their word.”
But the ruins aren’t the only worry for citizens. Some see the Lucas’ Oaks on the River development as a threat to an enormous live oak that grew out of the ruins.
“That’s one of the first things the citizens jumped up and down about,’’ Sweezey said. “The oak, then the tabby ruins.”
As the plans are now drawn, Sweezey estimated that “99 percent of the tabby ruins will be just fine.”
Still to come, however, is a review by the Darien’s planning and zoning board to ensure Lucas Properties’ plans fit with a historic district overlay.
The plans show the building sitting just off Fort King George Road, and Lucas may have to apply for a variance from set-back requirements, Sweezey said.
A few weeks ago, Kieran McMullen, the city’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, wouldn’t offer any opinion on Lucas’ plans.
“These are only preliminary plans,’’ he said of some bound drawings. “I don’t have the actual construction plans to go over.”
His recommendation will go before the city’s Planning and Zoning Board in the coming days.
Regardless of what the board decides, the Blessing of the Fleet festivals will go on, organizers say. Until the bridge is done, however, the clergy may have to deliver their blessings from the public dock just above water level rather than from on high on the U.S. 17 bridge.
As for Lucas’ development, organizers predict it will have little impact on the water-borne festival.