Give clearer guidance on city plan's purpose

info@islandpacket.comAugust 30, 2013 

Proponents of the city of Beaufort's Civic Master Plan say it is a guide for the next century of change and growth.

Yet when opposition arises, they say it doesn't carry the legal weight of the city's 10-year master plan or the city's zoning ordinances, so no one is obligated to follow it.

The final draft is nearly finished, but it will be ever-changing and never truly complete, one of its authors said at its recent public unveiling.

And those irked by maps and renderings depicting new development on their private property are assured the plan merely expresses what is possible in some distant future. Still, the city's Redevelopment Commission pursues a makeover of the Beaufort Downtown Marina before the ink is even dry on that section of the plan.

Perhaps it is possible for a document to be both enduring and fleeting, simultaneously consequential and inconsequential. But it's little wonder some people are distressed by the conflicting descriptions.

Straight talk is needed -- and quickly -- about what the plan is and what it is supposed to accomplish.

On Thursday, the Redevelopment Commission will put the plan to a vote, and it's very likely the commission will approve it given the role it played in the plan's development. The Metropolitan Planning Commission is to review it and vote Sept. 16, and Beaufort City Council could hold the first of two votes required for passage by Oct. 24.

Mayor Billy Keyserling made a valiant attempt to explain the plan in a recent email to constituents after about 70 of them showed up Aug. 22 for a presentation of the latest draft and 50 emailed questions or concerns to him soon after.

But Keyserling's lengthy explanation was full of the caveats and stipulations that have marked previous attempts.

The Civic Master Plan itself is larded with the sort of oblique language that pleases the policy wonk's ear but befuddles those seeking to make sense of its contents.

Take this sentence from the opening chapter: "While some projects conceptualized in this plan indicate building forms not present in Beaufort today, they are depicted because they illustrate a form of development that is appropriate for Beaufort's changing demographics and needs in the future, or are otherwise present in the community but not designed using an architectural vocabulary sympathetic to the Beaufort vernacular."

Is it too much to ask to write a public document using a vocabulary more sympathetic to the public that needs to understand it?

That public, by the way, is neither unintelligent nor disengaged, as those crafting the Civic Master Plan have implied from time to time when turning away an over-the-shoulder peek at the work in progress.

Southside Park Committee members, a prominent orthopedic surgeon and the former chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Education are among those who protested when the plan depicted new development on private property or public land designated for a different use.

The Civic Master Plan contains intriguing ideas, but also presumptuous ones.

It might be adopted by a phalanx of boards, commissions and councils, but it needs to be put in plain terms before it can be accepted and acted on by the people of Beaufort.

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