Time for Berkeley Hall, county to settle dispute

info@islandpacket.comDecember 22, 2013 

We wish Berkeley Hall residents had not rejected a frontage road proposal from Beaufort County that would have finally provided safe access to St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church and its school. It's past time for the community and the county to hammer out an acceptable plan before someone is seriously injured in a wreck.

The current setup, requiring school traffic and parishioners on eastbound U.S. 278 to make a U-turn to enter the site, is dangerous. Church members, parents and drivers in general have rightfully expressed safety concerns.

A required U-turn is simply an unacceptable solution for a church with about 8,400 parishioners and a school with more than 200 children.

A median crossover at the entrance of the greater Bluffton church, which once provided immediate access to the church and school, was closed as part of the U.S. 278 widening project.

And now, Berkeley Hall's property owners board has voted down an offer from the county that would have created a frontage road, connecting the church's parking lot to the community entrance and the traffic light at Buckwalter Parkway.

The road would have also extended east of the church to the light at the Bluffton Township Fire District Station.

In its offer, the county would have borne the financial burden, paying for a pressure-sensitive traffic signal at the Buckwalter intersection, road improvements and landscaping at the community entrance.

But Berkeley Hall residents said no to the offer, expressing concern about an increase in traffic that would snowball at certain times of the day such as morning drop-off for students and weekend Masses.

The county cannot override the community's decision and begin construction because of a six-year legal battle. In 2007, Berkeley Hall residents challenged the frontage-road plan. Until the litigation is resolved, work cannot begin.

While the S.C. Department of Transportation could reopen the median crossover, that sounds like a bad idea. Both county and state studies have shown the crossover to be unsafe. There's little point in returning to an equally dangerous setup.

Hope remains that a compromise can be forged by residents and the county.

Perhaps residents should remember its promise of providing vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle linkage to the church as a condition of its development.

The community is amenable to negotiating.

"We would like to find resolution, but to come up with a resolution that's best for everybody," said Berkeley Hall general manager Adrian Morris. "We're not saying it's over; we'd like to go back to the drawing board."

That common ground needs to be found soon -- before someone is seriously hurt.

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