Bluffton wants county to change planned route for Bluffton Parkway

March 15, 2011 

The town of Bluffton wants Beaufort County to go back to the drawing board with a proposal to realign Bluffton Parkway's intersection with Buckwalter Parkway.

Town manager Anthony Barrett pitched a new route design commissioned by a developer at Monday's County Council meeting. Mayor Lisa Sulka made a similar case in a March 7 letter to the county council.

The proposal met with a cool reception, because it would negate design work and a public comments process that took years to prepare and gather, deputy administrator Bryan Hill said. However, County Council Chairman Weston Newton told the Public Facilities committee to recommend how to proceed with the town's suggestion.

Work on the alignment is not scheduled because the county doesn't have enough money to pay for a package of 10 road projects approved by voters in 2006, to be funded in part with a penny-per-dollar sales tax. However, the county has decided how to re-route the Bluffton Parkway so that a one-mile stretch no longer overlaps Buckwalter Parkway.

The county's design was vetted in public meetings in 2008 and has been adopted by the County Council and the Beaufort Transportation Advisory group, deputy administrator Bryan Hill said. The process would have to be repeated if the county were to consider alternatives, he added. But the town wants the county to consider a different design commissioned by Reed Development, which owns property in Buckwalter Place, which the alignment of Bluffton Parkway would cut through. Some of that land would also be purchased for right-of-way.

The development agreement between Reed Development and the town of Bluffton allows the company to approve any future location of Bluffton Parkway -- and the town has an obligation to honor that agreement, Barrett wrote Tuesday in an e-mail.

John Reed of Reed Development said the county's proposal would make parts of his property unusable for development.

The area where the Buckwalter and Bluffton parkways meet is identified as a growth area for the town, Barrett wrote. Among other benefits, Reed's design, prepared by Thomas & Hutton, would provide for more commercial development and reduce the likelihood of lawsuits brought by Reed.

Also, the county could save as much as $1 million, according to Sulka's March 7 letter, because the company would donate much of the land needed for the right-of-way.

However, David Beaty of Florence and Hutchinson, hired to create county's design, said Sulka's letter ignores costs incurred by relocating utility lines. Beaty, who said he has reviewed the town-backed design, said the letter also doesn't mention that by moving the intersection a few hundred feet to the north, Bluffton Parkway would run closer to the Townes in Buckwalter Place. Homeowners there came out in droves at 2008 public meetings to oppose routing the highway too close to their community, he said.

"One individual interest may or may not agree with the greater good," Beaty said of the Reed-commissioned design.

Bluffton attorney Roberts Vaux told county council Tuesday they shouldn't consider the plan at all because the letter from Sulka was illegally drafted after an executive session in which no formal recommendation was made.

Barrett said the letter was considered under an executive session item listed as legal advice relating to the parkway alignment. The town attorney gave the advice and the letter was later composed and sent, he said.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Vaux were unsuccessful.

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