Panelists push residents to speak out on proposed building code changes

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 17, 2013 

Advisory committee members discuss the proposed form-based code earlier this year.

STAFF PHOTO

Four panelists intimately involved with form-based code agreed -- albeit with varying levels of enthusiasm and a number of concerns -- that the concept could be very beneficial to Beaufort's future during a roundtable discussion on Thursday night.

"With the right changes and by keeping a really careful eye on things, I think we'll be good," Michelle Knoll of the city's Historic District Review Board told an audience of approximately two dozen.

Knoll was one of four panelists who participated in the Leadership Beaufort Alumni Association's discussion about the proposed code at the Holiday Inn of Beaufort.

Other participants were Redevelopment Commission member Wendy Zara, The Point resident and form-based code citizen advisory committee co-chairwoman Terry Hussey and former Beaufort County community planner Brian Herrmann, who is working with Port Royal's citizen advisory committee.

The form-based code, which City Council refers to as the Beaufort Code, is a working draft of new zoning rules based more on a building's appearance than its use, the approach in traditional zoning.

The city, the town of Port Royal and Beaufort County are all editing a base code to create versions specific to each area.

Port Royal has finished its edits, the county is still working on them and the city's review is on hold until the proposed Civic Master Plan is complete.

PROMOTING GROWTH

Panelists' comments and concerns Thursday included how much specificity and, inversely, flexibility, should be built into the codes to promote positive growth.

Herrmann said he felt rural areas benefit from fewer restrictions, while key urban areas such as downtown Beaufort need stricter rules to insure potential developers create the vision the community wants.

"You want to have a range of options, but, in general, you don't just want something chaotic popping up," he said.

Pictures are useful in showing what is wanted in an area, but Knoll cautioned against them as well.

"You'll notice a lot of renderings and drawings and sometimes that visual image is a great tool but sometimes its tough because it's putting a narrow vision (on it)," she said.

Faster and easier permiting for building is unlikely with form-based code, the panelists agreed, because the that process is not affected.

A KEY GOAL

Protecting the historic district of downtown Beaufort was a key goal of Knoll, Zara and Hussey, who spoke several times about keeping controls in place such as the Historic District Review Board.

The Bladen Street district is a cautionary tale -- and has likely led to the increased community participation in the current process -- because the area was taken out of the review board's purview, the panelists said.

"I believe the city when they say that is not their intent to do here," Hussey said. "... They know the public outcry was serious."

"And it's going to get seriouser," Zara added.

Port Royal's code could go to the Metropolitan Planning Commission for consideration in November. The county's is expected to follow soon afterward. Hussey said it could take another year or two for the city's to be ready.

But Zara encouraged residents to stick with the process no matter how long it took.

"If this is something you're interested in -- this can be long and tedious -- you have to keep following it and making sure your voice is heard," she said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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