City shouldn't tune out input from its residents

info@islandpacket.comApril 15, 2013 

The city of Beaufort has begged for and organized public input on its various long-range plans, with volunteer review committees, charettes and the like.

But the city doesn't always listen to the input it solicits.

The recently unveiled Civic Master Plan shows houses on the city's Southside Park tract, a notion that has been opposed for at least a decade by neighborhood groups.

And this isn't an isolated incident.

When the City Redevelopment Commission recently prepared a draft brochure to send to prospective developers of the Beaufort Downtown Marina, it splashed across the cover a depiction of an architectural style for the area that had already been panned.

In fairness, it can be difficult for city planners to synthesize copious -- and sometimes contradicting -- input. An occasional oversight is to be expected. Nonetheless, these two most recent examples sound alarms. Why did it not occur to the Redevelopment Commission from the get-go how little sense it makes to solicit new ideas using old ones that already have been rejected? That's no way to get what you want, let alone inspire confidence in the commission's ability to color inside the lines set for it by City Council and the people it serves.

Fortunately, this was corrected before the materials were distributed. But how to explain the depiction of housing at Southside Park?

That parcel was given to the city by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority with land-use restrictions that forbade just such development. In other words, not only is housing there opposed by neighborhood groups, it also quite likely wouldn't be allowed.

The consultant the city has hired to oversee its planning continues to harp on the notion that developing and selling this housing would be a way to offset the cost of developing the park. Perhaps so, but who is he to insert into a plan elements that the city attorney, residents and the law have clearly and consistently opposed?

The planner, Craig Lewis, attempted to deflect criticism with the argument that the plan is merely a long-term vision and not for immediate implementation. The city might seek to change the covenants with the Water and Sewer authority. But this argument is duplicitous, given city officials' insistence that their plans do more than collect dust on a shelf. They are made to be implemented.

Indeed, the same tactic was used when a controversial boating and sailing center at the Downtown Marina was included in the master plan. Those made uneasy were told the master plan merely reflects what might happen; it does not dictate what must happen.

But lo and behold, a few months later the Redevelopment Commission is charging ahead to find a developer interested in turning the plans into something tangible. That includes not only the boating center, but also a whole lot more that wasn't in the plan at all.

The lesson is clear for city residents: Stay vigilant and keep talking because City Hall can be hard of hearing at times.

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