Never underestimate the power of a few people to effect change. By the City of Beaufort's count, 140 residents turned out last spring for presentations of the proposed civic master plan. If one assumes a third of those were repeat participants, then you could say fewer than 100 people sent consultants back to the drawing board to reflect resident input in a revised plan.
The revised plan was released last week and does reflect public input. That's a good thing. Part of being a good citizen is paying attention and participating in public discourse. Part of good government is listening to the good citizens who show up to participate. For a while during the public process, it appeared that the public comment was being disregarded and disrespected. One official was heard to comment that those who asked questions were "the same ones who opposed everything that comes down the river."
However, it is important to continue paying attention. Just because the consultants went back to the drawing board doesn't mean the new picture is the one residents want to see. Some of the original proposals that drew the most reaction were in the National Historic Landmark District where increased density and increased mass and scale of proposed structures clashed with the sense of place that many feel defines the district. Here's a taste: Those early illustrations that reflected intensive, large-scale development were "conceptual," but the Plan continues to suggest they are "one possibility for how future development may occur." While some of those pictures reflect building shapes and sizes that don't exist in Beaufort now, the plan says "they illustrate a form of development that is appropriate for Beaufort's changing demographics and needs. A developer for the Downtown Marina parking lot has been chosen by the Redevelopment Commission but his/her first assignment is not to draw buildings but to engage the public in a discussion of what's needed/wanted there. Nevertheless, the plan suggests "two four-story buildings with a Lowcountry look that could accommodate markets, condos, apartments, restaurants, the marina. Public space would be included with a new historical museum and a three-story commercial wharf building reminiscent of the historic wharf that stood there. It suggested that it could serve tourists and working fishermen. In all, the plan recommends smaller building footprints, large public space, a board walk and the preservation of Freedom Park. In late-breaking news, a proposal by a local developer for a five-story hotel on Port Republic Street in part of the Trask-Tucker parking lot doesn't seemed to have usurped the Plan's call for a center-of-the-block parking deck there. However, it would require a partnership between the city and the developer, something the city has said is necessary.
The revised plan addresses issues that arose in all sectors: Hermitage Road, the Depot, USCB, Beaufort Memorial Hospital and the Technical College of the Lowcountry, Ribaut Road. It behooves those with concerns about their neighborhoods to read how the revisions or lack thereof affect them. Read the plan at www.cityofbeaufort.org
or at City Hall; hear the first public presentation at City Hall at 5 p.m. Aug. 22. Be counted.
Maxine Lutz is the executive director of Historic Beaufort Foundation.