Off the shelf and onto the street: Implementing the city's vision

October 18, 2010 

Over the course of the past six months, I have referenced the city's comprehensive plan that, unlike other plans, sets specific goals for growing the city from within and setting deadlines for some tasks.

I also have written about how City Council charged the Beaufort-Port Royal Joint Planning Commission and the City Redevelopment Commission with taking actions necessary to accomplish these lofty but accomplishable goals.

And in my last essay, I wrote about building our future through redevelopment based on the principles of our historic foundation through infill redevelopment and a form-based code. A central downtown, surrounded by walkable neighborhoods, appropriate open spaces, civic spaces and institutions is, I believe, what we all want.

How do we get there without spending more of your hard-earned taxes?

By reallocating already-budgeted financial resources; the City Council last week took yet another step by providing both commissions with the tools they need to implement what we have asked them to do.

While the city's Redevelopment Commission will take the lead, working hand-in-hand with the City Council and staff, they will be supported by a team of highly experienced and nationally recognized community development professionals including the Lawrence Group (which facilitated and wrote the city's recent comprehensive plan) and a Beaufort firm, Metrocology, which is led by Demetri Baches.

Bringing outside expertise to provide hands-on redevelopment expertise will jump-start the critical process of transforming plans into action and eventually create the growth we need to sustain our little city.

With 300 years of lessons about what works and what doesn't in city planning, we are setting a new course, one that organizes civic infrastructure with private sector development to build "civitas" -- the complete city.

Beaufort's Northwest Quadrant, named one of the nation's "best old-house neighborhoods" by This Old House magazine, presents an example of what is taking place in one neighborhood and will be followed by others. Small businesses, professional services and neighbors are working with the city and residents to rejuvenate the once-blighted and previously neglected community.

The downtown core needs this as do some of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Within the next two years, we will complete the Beaufort civic master plan and, after many years of inaction, implement the Redevelopment Commission's aggressive agenda.

The civic master plan will establish principles and standards that all public and private development will follow. The team will identify and promote investment and reinvestment opportunities, block by block, in each neighborhood throughout the entire city, not just one or two neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its history, unique character and physical attributes upon which we will respect, build upon and not destroy.

The civic master plan will be visual and will give residents and businesses a clear picture of what is intended: Expectations will be set; there should be less guessing about what works and what does not work; and we will, in effect, have a tool to use to stimulate various development and/or redevelopment opportunities throughout Beaufort.

The annual expense of doing all this is equivalent to what the city already budgeted for its zoning administration team and consulting contracts. The existing zoning team and consultants will be folded into what will be called the new City Building Team and all will work side by side.

By reorganizing, reallocating and re-prioritizing resources, we strive to keep the lid on spending while bringing essential resources to the table. Planning for the future and working with the private sector to build the future, is a key investment in Beaufort's fourth century and beyond.

The Lawrence Group is a nationally recognized planning, design, development and project-delivery firm headquartered in St. Louis with their regional office in Davidson, N.C., led by managing principal Craig Lewis.

What we're really doing is taking the vision plan created by the people of the city of Beaufort and turning it into an action plan of bricks and mortar and streets and redevelopment and reinvestment. All this, together, is what will keep Beaufort the vibrant, appealing city that has steered through 300 years of ups and downs.

Metrocology is a Beaufort-based strategic planning and consulting firm led by Demetri Baches. Formerly a director with the internationally acclaimed planning and design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company based in Miami, Baches currently heads up DPZ's work in Asia and Australia as a partner of DPZ Pacific.

Both Lewis and Baches are certified by the American Planning Association and by the Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization that promotes walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions. In addition, Lewis is a LEED-accredited professional, meaning he helps buildings, developments and communities ensure a more sustainable future.

Parallel to the Redevelopment Commission's work plan, the city also plans a transition from its current conventional zoning practices to form-based code during the next 18 to 24 months. This requires a complete re-tooling in administrative expertise and a block-level, detailed planning process to ensure success.

Form-based code is a partnership between Beaufort County, the town of Port Royal and the city. The Lawrence Group/Metrocology team will share its planning expertise in the new approach to zoning. They have applied this in numerous communities throughout the world and also administer these codes for local communities.

To complete the work program, the Lawrence Group/Metrocology team will engage, manage, coordinate and employ a number of other local and regional consulting firms to participate in this team approach.

The Beaufort area is blessed with a multitude of capable and experienced companies and individuals. It will be easy to draw on these community assets as required by the ambitious work program ahead.

What we ask of you is to "think big." Look at your neighborhood and determine what are its positives and negatives. What, if anything, is missing? What, if any, issues need to be addressed?

When the team comes through to assess and strategize about the steps necessary to spur investment and/or improve matters, we need you to participate by voicing your suggestions and ideas. It's that simple.

Most of what needs to be done to re-energize our city involves having the confidence to re-energize ourselves. The rest involves individual and neighborhood involvement, innovative thinking and seasoned experience.

I am proud to say we have laid out the plans, and it is time to go to work. Fortunately, by reorganizing existing resources and being more efficient with those that remain, we are able to forge ahead to ensure the vibrant city we all deserve.

As usual, I invite your thoughts and comments. My e-mail is billy@islc.net

Billy Keyserling is mayor of Beaufort.

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