Town of Port Royal inching toward new life

info@islandpacket.comNovember 23, 2011 

Port Royal has reached another major milestone in setting its future, but any celebration must be tempered by the fact that there are many more miles to go.

The historic town hopes to see its deep port and surrounding 52 acres transformed from a shuttered industrial port facility to a thriving community centerpiece of shops, homes and parks.

It hopes to see the ugly chain link fence that separates the diverse community from the waterfront come down and stay down.

A major step in that direction took place Nov. 9 when Town Council approved a development plan with a firm that plans to redevelop the former Port of Port Royal site.

Next come negotiations for a tax increment financing district, which would use new property tax revenue to develop public assets, such as a boardwalk along the water, parks, streets and possibly water and sewer infrastructure. Those negotiations must include the county and the school district.

Port Royal town manager Van Willis says this type of financing for public assets has always been a key financial component as suitors have looked at developing the tract over the past five years. Getting the special tax district in place is one of the steps that must take place before the developer, the Port Royal Redevelopment Group, purchases the land for $17 million from the State Ports Authority.

The public could see some changes in the landscape by spring.

Meanwhile, the development plan has been vetted publicly for a number of years, dating to long public sessions in 2004 when everyone who cared to participate contributed to a wish list for the property. Plans for the tract have been further refined with the current proposed buyer over the past month.

The plan calls for a total of 15 to 16 acres of open space, Willis said, and overall development of 10 units per acre. The number of total housing units was reduced to 425, but the potential commercial space was increased. Town development standards -- such as height restrictions, buffers and on-site parking requirements -- should relieve fears that 10 units per acre would give Port Royal the look and feel of Miami.

The plan calls for no gated communities, for town ownership of the commercial shrimp dock and related assets, for conversion of the old cement building on the dock to retail space, a 225-slip marina on Battery Creek and a public promenade consisting of a boardwalk from the Marina Village to the Sands beach.

Much of this is compatible with community wishes expressed in 2004. A notable departure is that the drystack boat storage shed will remain, to be quickly reopened for business if the development plan takes effect. But if the drystack marina's appearance is not improved or if it is not being used in five years, it is to be torn down.

The Town Council vote was not unanimous, and this long redevelopment process should continue to foster healthy give-and-take. Port Royal will get one chance to do this right.

But residents also must be realistic. The line of those willing and able to bring this economic and cultural makeover to the town is very short, and compromises will be necessary.

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