Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 6, 2023 to indicate the word “plantation” was removed from the real estate listing for U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter’s property.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter is selling his nearly 500-acre parcel of land near the proposed site of the now moribund Spaceport Camden, a county government project that Carter once championed.
The Georgia Supreme Court in February scratched the county’s dream of launching rockets when it upheld the results of a 2022 referendum in which local voters rejected the controversial spaceport.
Carter’s land, located on the same road about 10 miles from the doomed project, went up for sale in April at double the price he paid for it in 2018.
Camden County spent more than $12 million over the last decade to develop a spaceport at a former munitions and pesticide manufacturing site currently owned by Union Carbide. The goal was to create jobs through launching up to 12 small commercial rockets per year. But the plan met with controversy from the start. Opponents said the proposed flight path over residential property, coupled with the industrial contamination of the Union Carbide property, made the project too risky for taxpayers.
Still, the plan had high-powered political supporters, including Carter.
The congressman bought his Camden property for $2.05 million from Florida-based Challenged Investments LLC, county tax records show. Months later, the Republican lawmaker from Pooler who represents Georgia’s coastal counties, spearheaded a bipartisan letter from the state’s Congressional delegation urging the Federal Aviation Administration to issue Camden a launch site operator’s license.
The letter did not mention that Carter owned nearby property. Nor did Carter include the purchase in his Congressional financial disclosures. The congressman told the Savannah Morning News in 2020 that he was not required to make the disclosure because he bought the land not as an investment, but as a personal hunting and fishing retreat.
“You only report real property that you hold if it’s solely for the purpose of investment or the generation of income,” he said. “And that property is not for investment, and it’s certainly not for the generation of income.”
Jesup-based Carter Group, a real estate broker that has no relation to the lawmaker, lists the land at $4.25 million, calling it “a truly remarkable property that offers the perfect blend of natural beauty, convenience, and development potential.”
The property boasts more than 2 miles of marsh and deep water frontage on Sadlers Creek. The agency listing initially referred to it as Sheffield Island Plantation on Sadlers Creek Bluff, although Ryker Carter, the founder and co-owner of the real estate group, says the land has no history as a plantation. “That’s just for marketing,” he said. The listing was later changed to remove “plantation” from the title, though the word still appears on the accompanying video.
The property’s 242 upland acres are zoned residential and could accommodate 110 homes. The online listing, which includes a two-minute video, describes it as “conveniently located near city water, which could make it an excellent development tract.”
The lawmaker did not respond to The Current’s requests for comment about the current sale.
Property tax battle
A licensed pharmacist, Rep. Carter is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. Using the publicly available Congressional financial disclosures, the web site Open Secrets estimated his net worth in 2019 was $33 million, making him the 16th wealthiest representative that year. The organization appraised his median net worth in 2021 at $32 million.
That same year, Carter told C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal:” “I am not wealthy but I am comfortable.”
Despite his stated plans to use the property only for hunting and fishing, Carter never placed the land in a conservation easement, a common method of restricting development rights in exchange for a tax break.
Instead, after Carter bought the Sheffield Island property, also called Stafford Island, he challenged the county’s assessed value of the land at $273,800. He engaged in a protracted legal battle that was settled in May 2022 with the county and the congressman agreeing to freeze the assessment at the $273,800 level through 2022. Carter’s property tax was $3,568 last year.
Camden has not yet finalized the 2023 property assessments, Chief Appraiser Brian Bishop wrote in an email.
The county estimates that a property valued at $4.25 million — the asking price of Carter’s land — would be expected to pay $51,282 a year in property taxes.
Longtime spaceport critic Steve Weinkle sees Carter’s property tax situation as unfair to ordinary residents like himself.
“Unlike taxpayers who saw our taxes go up to pay for spaceport, Mr. Carter owns 471 speculative acres and has seen his tax bill go down while he tried to influence the outcome of Spaceport Camden’s licensing,” Weinkle said.