Developers call MidTown Square an investment

Preservationists concerned about approval process, though

May 8, 2011 

This conceptual site plan shows a proposal for the mixed-use development MidTown Square in downtown Beaufort's Northwest Quadrant. The development could include up to 16 single-family homes and six live-work units.

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A mostly vacant block-and-a-half in the Northwest Quadrant neighborhood is set for long-awaited redevelopment, despite the concerns of some historic preservationists that the approval process for MidTown Square will set a bad precedent.

Developers recently broke ground on a project in the heart of historic Beaufort that, if built to capacity, would include as many as 16 single-family homes and six live-work units.

MidTown Square will fill almost 2 acres that have sat empty for years. It's also the first plan approved under the city's new Bladen Street redevelopment district zoning code -- a form-based code that focuses more on what structures look like and less on how they are used. It will allow developers to bypass city review boards, which some preservationists oppose.

City officials and developers Steven Tully and John Trask III touted the project as a true public-private partnership, with each sector using the other as leverage to redevelop the area.

Bounded by Bladen, Duke, Prince and Adventure streets, MidTown Square will benefit from about $1.3 million in streetscape improvements the city has planned for the area. The improvements are funded through two federal Community Development Block Grants.

"The mere fact that they were doing the streetscape helped to convince us that this was the right time to do the project," Trask said. "It's a great example of the city making an investment in the neighborhood and the private sector feeding off of that."

Tully and Trask of Community Development Corp. of Beaufort purchased the land about five years ago and tried unsuccessfully to sell it, Trask said. So the developers decided to build, with Tully spearheading the project.

At least four lots have been sold, and work has started on two houses, Tully said. Workers expect to break ground on a third home this month.

The property includes a building constructed in 1912 that once housed Coastal Contractors, a cabinet manufacturer, according to the Historic Beaufort Foundation. That structure likely will be rehabilitated, Trask said.

A community garden that Tully and Trask allowed on the property last year will likely be relocated downtown, they said.

Custom homes will start at about $259,000, according to an online brochure by Allen Patterson Residential, the project's builder. Houses will sit close to the road with parking in the rear, accessible by an alley, according to designs. Prospective buyers can choose from a collection of homes designed for the community or customize a home plan, according to the project's website.

All structures will fit the neighborhood's historic character and meet national environmental standards under the LEED-certification program, Tully said. The form-based code will dictate how the property will be developed and will give city staff authority to approve design plans, rather than the city's Historic District Review Board or Design Review Board, as was required in the past.

"We're monitoring it as a pilot program for the form-based code to see how we can help developers move through the process even more quickly and with fewer glitches," Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said.

But some argue faster isn't always better.

Pete Palmer, chairman of the Historic Beaufort Foundation, said he and other foundation members worry that removing the Historic District Review Board from the process could diminish downtown's character.

"I'm totally opposed to not using the Historic District Review Board to review anything that's being done in the Historic Landmark District," Palmer said. "They're setting a bad precedent."

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