Planning panel would bring a unified approach to growth, supporters say

December 4, 2009 

During the past three years, local officials have defined regional growth boundaries in northern Beaufort County and agreed to make development standards consistent across jurisdictions.

Now, they want to create a new regional planning commission to oversee future land use.

The proposed commission marks the latest step to forge cooperation among Beaufort County, the city of Beaufort and the town of Port Royal. Their shared borders mean that growth in one will impact the others, officials say.

The new group would be an outgrowth of the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan, created three years ago to outline growth in the area, said Jim Hicks, chairman of the plan's implementation committee.

Officials say they know the group wouldn't provide "magic answers" for development challenges, but it would at least continue bringing the three governments together for discussions.

Beaufort's City Council gave unanimous preliminary approval for the planning commission last week. Port Royal's council hasn't voted yet, but Mayor Sam Murray said it has supported the idea in the past.

County planning director Anthony Criscitiello said he has asked the County Council's chairman to review the proposal and provide feedback.

Residents often find it difficult to get interested in planning until it affects them directly, said Harley Laing of the Northern Area Plan implementation committee.

But they should be paying attention now to how future annexations, zoning changes, transportation projects, government services and new developments could affect them, he said.

"Any significant action taken in this area will impact neighboring communities in some way," Laing said. "Better coordinating that can save time, money and improve how government works."

Currently, Beaufort and Port Royal have a joint municipal planning commission that offers recommendations to the city and town councils. If approved, the new group would replace that commission and offer recommendations on all issues for Beaufort and Port Royal, even if they are not part of the defined growth boundaries.

The new regional commission would not look at all of the county's planning issues, only those within the designated urban growth boundaries, Criscitiello said. If the project falls within those boundaries, the county would use the new planning commission instead of a county subcommittee that currently addresses such issues, he said.

The recommendation, however, would still go to the county Planning Commission before reaching the County Council, he said. The Planning Commission would include the regional commission's recommendation in any presentation to the County Council, even if the recommendations were not the same, he said.

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