Redevelopment Commission seeks opportunities to improve Beaufort

emoody@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Faced with projects both big and small -- from a makeover of the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot to filling in empty lots -- the city's Redevelopment Commission is looking for ways to make progress in the years ahead.

The commission met for its annual retreat Thursday at Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority to plan for 2014 and 2015.

"I'm somewhat overwhelmed with the amount of projects and issues we have to work on in the city, but I think we've identified some of the most pressing issues to start chipping away on," commission member Stephen Murray said.

Many of the projects, such as creating affordable housing opportunities and laying groundwork for more businesses and jobs, are constant concerns.

"We're still going back to stuff that we have been talking about all along, and hopefully we may be getting closer to resolving some of the issues," member Wendy Zara said.

After reviewing finances -- including income from city parking meters and other sources, and expenses such as the contract with consultant The Lawrence Group -- commissioners discussed specific projects.

The housing committee, which is working with agencies that include the Beaufort Housing Authority, wants to hire a joint-agency employee to focus on creating affordable -- not subsidized -- housing programs. About $150,000 would be needed, half for salary and benefits and half for seed money for projects, commission member Keith Waldrop said.

"It's one thing to go out there and try to get big companies to go into the (Beaufort) Commerce Park, which we need, but you can actually be accomplishing something by creating housing," Zara said.

Other commissioners intend to focus on business and industry projects, such as developing the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot, enticing companies to the commerce park and creating jobs with livable wages. Commissioner Alan Dechovitz pointed to the expansion of dollar stores as an indication of a struggling economy.

"When your people aren't making enough money to shop at Walmart, there's things you have to work on first," he said.

Other projects in progress include housing on Lafayette Street and King Street, the latter of which is being done in cooperation with the Baptist Church of Beaufort.

A new committee was formed Thursday to focus on educating the public about the $26 million project to update Boundary Street.

Commission member Henrietta Goode said the group needs to balance economic growth and quality of life as it tackles projects. Otherwise, Beaufort will become unrecognizable.

"Eventually, what (people) came for will be gone," she said. "The hellos and goodbyes and the community camaraderie -- I think we need to find a way to blend the two. How, I can't answer that, but that's something we need to consider when redeveloping the city. What are we redeveloping it to?"

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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