Additional input sought on Beaufort's Civic Master Plan

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 24, 2013 

An image from the Oct. 18, 2013, draft of the Beaufort Civic Master Plan.

LAWRENCE GROUP

The latest version of Beaufort's Civic Master Plan could be ready in two weeks.

Joe Devito, chairman of the Beaufort/Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission, hopes residents use that time well.

He wants them to comment on the document before the commission votes Nov. 18 and moves the plan to City Council.

DeVito suggested on Thursday that a final draft of the much-edited and discussed 100-year plan be available by Nov. 4, a full two weeks before the commission's next meeting. The commission has held off making a recommendation because of continued edits and concerns.

The commission met with the Redevelopment Commission, which has voted in favor of the plan, the Historic Beaufort Foundation and city staff on Thursday night in a special work session to hammer out lingering issues.

The document is available on the city's website -- cityofbeaufort.com -- and outlines development of vacant and important properties, road and transportation changes, access to water, stormwater needs, parks, and areas targeted for economic development.

DISCUSSING THE ISSUES

Some of the remaining issues -- what can be done with land owned by the Beaufort County Open Land Trust for example -- were handled quickly Thursday night.

City consultant Craig Lewis said the organization's rules basically ban any improvements, making it a mute point.

Other topics, like the fundamental role of the plan and how to describe that role within the document, took much longer to work out.

When historic board president Conway Ivy asked, for clarification purposes, if what is shown in the plan must happen, there was generally agreement the document is a purely conceptual, guiding document one.

"The gorilla in the room, that everybody knows, is that this is not legally binding and I just want that in the document," Ivy said.

The plan is meant not only to help focus future development, but highlight flaws in the city's zoning, Lewis said. It is an extension of the state mandated Comprehensive Plan, which must be updated every five years, he said.

Most parties at the table seemed content with DeVito's suggestion to add language making it clear the conceptual plan "facilitates" and works with existing regulations.

The two-dozen people at the City Hall meeting laughed when Redevelopment Commissioner Mike McNally pointed that, in the long run, developers are going to have their own ideas.

"There's nothing in any master plan that will discourage developers from coming in and trying to doing what they want," he said.

ECONOMIC CONCERNS

Concern about appropriate density and building height and mass was a common theme Thursday as participants worked through the 296-page document.

Historic board consultant Cynthia Jenkins said the wrong density in the historic district could be detrimental.

The small cottages the plan shows in some Northwest Quadrant backyards are opportunities for property owners to generate rental income -- and be able to afford to stay in their homes, Lewis said.

Redevelopment Commissioner Alan Dechovitz said the city needs a more vibrant economy.

"Our problem today is we don't generate sufficient revenue to even pay for what we have at the moment," he said.

"I think it's silly for a city that has this much potential and attracts this many people and is located in such a magnificent place, that the City Council had to worry about where to find money to empty out trash cans and keep bathrooms open for children," he said.

After the planning commission votes, the plan moves to City Council for a public hearing and two votes.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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