Planning commission tables Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot zoning changes

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the commission voted to table the question of zoning changes for the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot.

An advisory board wants the city of Beaufort to wait before rezoning the publicly owned Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot to allow commercial development.

The Beaufort/Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission unanimously voted Monday to table a decision on the parking lot change from conservation preservation to core commercial. The commission considered two potential rezoning plans before making the decision.

"I struggle with rezoning the public property without knowing what is going on that," chairman Joe DeVito said.

The rejected proposal was made by city staff, and is connected with an agreement between the city and developers with Historic Marina Partners LLC to come up with a development plan for the area. The agreement calls for rezoning and subsequent transfer, by lease or sale, of the area to the developers, if City Council approves the plan.

Staff members first asked for 10 properties in and around the parking lot, including Freedom Mall and Seccession Park, which the Beaufort County Open Land Trust says have restrictions prohibiting most buildings, to be rezoned to a combination of neighborhood commercial and core commercial.

After input from some of the private property owners and public, staff prepared an alternative rezoning plan in which the mall and park would remain conservation preservation, two private lots would be neighborhood commercial and the rest would be core commercial.

After hearing from a passionate audience Monday, the commission voted in favor of the alternate plan for all six of the private properties, but against any changes to public property. The private properties would be neighborhood commercial and core commercial.

Commission member Robert Semmler was upset about the timing of when he received information about the rezoning, including some documents just before the meeting. After an explanation by city planner Libby Anderson, DeVito concurred that information arrived as it usually does, but said this was a big issue for the timeframe provided.

Semmler said he was insulted he was not given more time to consider all the information, and he felt the rezoning was being rushed. He also questioned whether it would even matter to City Council what the commission recommended.

A number of residents, including residents George Trask and Edie Rogers, Historic Beaufort Foundation executive director Maxine Lutz, Open Land Trust executive director Patty Kennedy and former Mayor David Taub, said rezoning needs to wait until more information and a proposed plan for the parking lot are available.

"A lot of this is political," said Trask, who wants to create a citizens committee and come up with an alternative development plan. "This city is run by five people. They change office periodically. And I want to tell everyone here tonight, and I'll go around and tell it to others, their jobs are in jeopardy if they don't stop this."

Redevelopment Commission member and marina project manager Alan Dechovitz said his commission, which discussed but did not vote on the rezoning Thursday, supports the rezoning. Developing the marina is part of a larger plan to help grow Beaufort into a place that attracts a more wealthy class of visitors to help support the city economically.

"I personally believe a change in strategy is necessary, and this is part of that change in strategy," he said.

A public hearing before City Council will be Jan. 28.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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