Old Town might get new look, but parking remains an issue

tbarton@islandpacket.comJuly 13, 2013 

Three new restaurants and four apartments are slated to open next year on Calhoun Street, more evidence of improvements in Old Town Bluffton's economy, business owners and town officials say.

The town's Historic Preservation Commission reviewed proposals Wednesday from Thomas Viljac, an Old Town business owner, and architect Mike Vaccaro of Ludtke & Vaccaro Architects, LLC.

The new developments, though, place growing pressure on the town to address the area's parking limitations.

On-street parking along Calhoun Street and May River Road fills up quickly during the Bluffton Farmers Market and on most weekends, creating a logjam as patrons of local businesses circle and jockey for one of the coveted spaces.

"We have got to wrap our arms around that," said town councilman Ted Huffman, owner of Bluffton BBQ in Old Town.

"There are studies happening as we speak ... but it's something we've got to address. We don't want to get behind (on) this because people will get discouraged from coming to Old Town if there's no place to park. It definitely will be on the agenda real soon."

THE VILJAC PLAN

Viljac, who owns The Dispensary on Calhoun Street, plans to add three commercial buildings next to it at the intersection of Lawrence and Calhoun streets.

The buildings -- two carriage houses and a small cottage that would include a fine dining restaurant, a small bar and a "high-end" raw bar -- are part of the second phase of a development plan for the property approved by the town in June 2008.

The buildings would be built with materials Viljac reclaimed from the Estill train depot and Barnwell general store.

Viljac said he plans to offer valet service and is talking with surrounding property owners to provide private parking spaces.

"The idea is to provide a village environment on Calhoun Street," said Viljac, who put his plans on hold in the wake of the recent mortgage crisis and downturn in commercial lending. "Fortunately, providing another source of income with the bar ... I've gotten a point where I can add a food component, which I had been lacking."

He has partnered with Matt Jording of The Sage Room on Hilton Head Island to open a similar restaurant in Old Town.

THE 'LOST ART' PLAN

Vaccaro presented plans for a three-story, 7,500-square-foot commercial building at the Calhoun Street Promenade that would house a restaurant on the first floor and four apartments above.

The proposed "Lost Art Building" would be built kitty-corner to Captain Woody's on the west side of Calhoun Street.

The architecture firm also designed Moon Mi Pizza -- a combination restaurant and art gallery -- that opened last month on the Promenade, as well as River Town Tavern, which will be built next to the restaurant.

Vaccaro said tavern construction is expected to begin within weeks and last about six months.

"We are excited to become part of the growing, thriving restaurant community in the area," said Bluffton resident Margie Backaus, who is financing the building's construction along with partner and fellow Bluffton resident James Soules. "We believe growth in the area will support another great dining alternative and new investment."

The plan calls for developers to proivde parking but it wasn't clear how many spaces would be added.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Historic Preservation Commission generally praised the proposals, but were critical of some aspects -- namely Viljac's plan for a large deck connecting his buildings and the large scale use of brick proposed for Backaus' building.

The commission supported Viljac's plans for the buildings, but withheld approval until seeing more detailed drawings of the deck.

It has yet to vote on Backaus' plans. The commission next meets Aug. 7.

Both developers must also apply for building permits from the town.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom

Related content:

Gas station design worries some in Old Town Bluffton: May 5, 2013

New restaurants planned for Bluffton's Calhoun Street Promenade: Sept. 9, 2012

Bluffton historic panel OKs five new buildings in the Carson Cottages area: March 6, 2008

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