Scholars say these people long separated from the mainland retained much of their African heritage — from unique dialect to skills and crafts such as cast-net fishing and weaving baskets. But isolation also caused Gullah communities to shrink.
Since 2010, a handful of Hog Hammock landowners have sold their properties for as much as $165,500 a half-acre to mainland buyers wanting to build houses near the water. County appraisers insist they have valued homes according to market demands and land sale prices in the community.
“The values that we placed on their properties, we feel they still hold,” said property appraiser Blair McLinn. “Nothing, we felt, has changed.”
In at least one case the resulting property value increase was extreme. William and Maggie Banks saw a single acre of undeveloped land they own vault from an appraised value of $10,000 two years ago to a whopping $181,250. The appeals board upheld that higher value Monday.
Reed Colfax is a Washington-based attorney for 28 Hog Hammock landowners who have a separate housing discrimination complaint pending against McIntosh County with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He said the higher appraisals fly in the face of a 1994 county ordinance that designates Hog Hammock a special zoning district intended to prevent “land value increases which could force removal of the indigenous population.”
“They can’t afford it,” Colfax said. “They’re going to be forced off the island in direct contradiction to the ordinance.”
Attorneys for Hog Hammock residents argued Monday that county appraisers unfairly valued properties based on land sales between corporations and developers that were artificially high and dealt with properties never listed on the open market. They also said newer homes that have driven up property values are larger than allowed under zoning ordinances.
Robert Hudley, chairman of McIntosh County’s Board of Equalization that hears appeals of property values, said his board was powerless to deal with zoning violations. He urged Hog Hammock residents to keep up their fight as the board upheld most of the higher appraisals. Its decisions can be appealed to Superior Court.
“I agree with what you’re saying,” Hudley told the group. “I’m saying go to a higher court. This doesn’t need to stop here. It needs to go further.”