Residents looking closer at development plans for Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 16, 2014 

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Beaufort developer Jim Chaffin of Chaffin-Light, left, and Steve Navarro, president of The Furman Co. in Greenville speak during a meet-and-greet with the public sponsored by Main Street Beaufort, USA Wednesday afternoon inside the Best Western on Bay Street. Go to local news video on islandpacket.com to learn more.

SARAH WELLIVER — Staff photo Buy Photo

Residents concerned about redevelopment plans for the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot said their piece to city and regional officials this week.

They're also starting to talk among themselves about how they can do more.

"There needs to be a new generation -- a younger generation, (that) has to step forward and take the lead to do what is best for Beaufort," said George Trask, an attorney and editor of online newspaper The Beaufort Tribune. He said he is trying to organize "younger leadership" to protect an area he's been involved with for half a century.

Many of the "prime movers" of the past are gone, dead or unable to carry on the work they did previously, Trask said.

Nonetheless, some of the old guard made plain their dissatisfaction with the city's agreement with Historic Marina Partners LLC to develop a plan for the lot, which is expected to be presented this spring for City Council's approval.

Trask, former S.C. Rep. Edie Rodgers and former Beaufort Mayor David Taub were among those who spoke against efforts to rezone the marina and nearby property during a meeting Monday of the Beaufort/Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Taub ascribed the "groundswell" of skepticism to plans that are advancing rapidly and without much public input.

"This has been bad public policy, bad public access and (backwards)," he said.

Although developers are gathering comments from residents about what to build, two crucial input points have been skipped, Taub says.

First, the developers were selected by the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission and approved by City Council before the names of others who expressed interest in the work were publicly identified.

Second, Taub said, there was little public input about choosing a company to redevelop the marina -- or even about whether to redevelop it at all.

The groundwork to allow new construction was laid when City Council approved, after months of discussion, inclusion of a water sports center in the conceptual Civic Master Plan. More recent discussions by officials have included retail, restaurant, lodging and other uses, as well.

"We need to stop it," Taub said. "Or to at least slow it down and catch our breath."

Redevelopment Commission member and marina project coordinator Alan Dechovitz said correct procedures were followed.

"(We) regret that some people may believe we have acted in some way that is inappropriate, but they are not correct," he said.

During Monday's Beaufort/Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting, Trask broached the idea of a semi-formal group of residents creating an alternative plan.

Dozens of residents attended the meeting, with several opposed to rezoning the parking lot before the developers have unveiled their plans. Taub cautioned that even if the current developers' plans are attractive, if they fall through, the city could wind up with something it doesn't want.

"Once you change the zoning ... you allow anything that fits," Taub said. "... It can happen by right and you can't stop that, and council can't stop that. It is permitted by law."

Dechovitz tried to reassure the audience that wouldn't be the case. According to the agreement, City Council would transfer property to the Redevelopment Commission, to arrange lease or sale to developers. Dechovitz said he believed a lease is more likely.

"You should feel confident that as long as City Council is controlling the property, you shouldn't have any unintended consequences," he said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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