City work doesn't stop when plans are approved

info@islandpacket.comAugust 29, 2012 

As Beaufort turns the spade on road projects that have been years in the making, public reaction to the plans for the Boundary Street and Ribaut Road corridors is instructive for all.

During a special meeting Aug. 21, City Council decided to accept a $12.6 million federal grant for Boundary Street redevelopment. Once Beaufort County Council and the Federal Highway Administration sign off on the plans, the spending -- and the work -- should follow in short order.

And five days earlier, the city and Beaufort Memorial Hospital held a news conference to announce plans to make sidewalks near the hospital's campus safer, part of a larger city strategy to remake parts of the Ribaut Road area.

To some residents, these plans are too expensive, unnecessary, misguided, likely to harm their business or prone to route more traffic through residential areas. Most of all, some say, they are too sudden.

But the city's intentions, particularly for Boundary Street, have been no secret. The Boundary Street master plan was adopted in August 2006 and the Boundary Street redevelopment plan in June 2007, according to the city's website. The documents were available on the website for years, until links to them apparently went missing after a recent site redesign.

Still, city leaders must consider the objections, even at this late hour, as well as its own contribution to residents befuddlement.

The city should:

  • Remember its duty to keep the public informed. Yes, these plans were set years ago, but they have receded from consciousness because little of the most transforming work has been done. In the interim, residents -- and city officials -- have come and gone.

  • Get its new website in order. The long-available Boundary Street plans have disappeared at precisely the wrong time. (City manager Scott Dadson said links to the documents should be live again soon.)

  • Additionally, the city appears less than transparent and breeds suspicion about who is steering the ship when its Office of Civic Investment -- the nexus of so much of the city's ambition -- has a separate website address and is not included in the main navigation of the city website.

  • Not rely on the city website to do all the explaining. Town hall meetings to spell out changes need to be scheduled for working resident's convenience, and written inquiries from those not able to attend should be encouraged and replied to promptly.

  • Drop the high-falutin' language. Yes, technical terms and concepts that escape the layman's understanding are an inevitable part of municipal planning. But when public meetings are called "charettes" and public officials talk about gauzy concepts, such as "sustainability," confusion can follow. And so can mistrust.

  • Another lesson for city officials to soak in: The value of humility.

    Today's crop of city leaders often speak in sweeping terms about their vision to transform the city for generations to come. Such ambition can be laudable. But the present hue and cry about 6-year-old plans demonstrates its limits.

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