Panel takes up big job with big impact for city

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 7, 2012 

With 20 members, the committee set up for a line-by-line review of the city of Beaufort's form-based code proposal assigns a lot of cooks to the kitchen.

But whatever problems are entailed by giving such a large number of people input on technical matters, the alternative surely is less desirable -- substantial changes to the city's zoning rules that are steered by a few well-connected people or city hall employees with wonkish impulses.

Training many eyes on the minutiae of the new city code serves another purpose -- allaying fears about a new concept.

Form-based code differs from more traditional zoning methods in that it sets rules based more on a building's appearance than its use (though its proponents are quick to point out a building's use isn't entirely disregarded.) As with so many things involving government, the devil will be in the details, but nothing inherent to form-based code seems incompatible with Beaufort.

To the contrary, emphasis on the "look and feel" of development and redevelopment suggests form-based code could be useful in preserving the Beaufort aesthetic, which largely is defined by trees and historic buildings.

Approval by a large committee could drive home the point.

Along those lines, after initial reservations, Maxine Lutz, acting executive director for the Historic Beaufort Foundation, said she is satisfied with the board appointments, which include foundation consultant and former director Cynthia Jenkins.

Preservationists are an important constituency to have on board as the city seeks to forge rules that could dictate the direction of Beaufort's development for a generation or more.

Builders, developers, City Council members, architects, businessmen and representatives of the city's various neighborhoods also have been enlisted to pore over 400-plus pages of proposed code.

No small task awaits them, and a large, broad-based group does not guarantee universal agreement or flawless rules will emerge. However, the city at least has assembled a committee to match the size and scope of the endeavor.

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