City sets right timeline for redevelopment project

newsroom@islandpacket.comMarch 21, 2014 

Redevelopment of the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot has been more than a year in the planning. Yet the public still has a scant sense of what might be wrought upon one of the city's most visible and valuable properties.

To some laboring to move this project forward, the pace is beginning to feel plodding. Redevelopment Commission member and project leader Alan Dechovitz said that the city must move with urgency to rezone the property so that the city's private partner in this venture, Historic Marina Partners LLC, does not walk away.

Yet, to skeptics, the pace surely seems breakneck, for the public's opportunities to contribute to and see the plans have, thus far, come in sudden, brief bursts. Many think it hasty -- unwise, even -- to rezone the property before anyone has had a chance to eyeball concrete plans.

Beaufort City Council seems inclined toward the Redevelopment Commission's preferred pace, but it needs public support for redevelopment to be successful. On Tuesday, it struck a reasonable balance between these competing interests.

The council will hold its first vote on rezoning April 22 -- after the public has had a chance to weigh in on a written plan for the parking lot that is to be unveiled March 26, but before schematics, elevation drawings and other renderings are available.

Presumably, the second vote necessary to make rezoning official would be held only after renderings and other details have been revealed. However, there is no guarantee this will be the case, making it all the more important that the public -- the skeptics, the disinterested and the supporters alike -- pay attention in the next few weeks.

Blink, and you might miss the April 8 public hearing to discuss the rezoning.

Councilman Mike Sutton has advised Historic Marina Partners to expedite matters in the meantime by approaching other advisory boards that will be part of the review and approval process. Due diligence also is incumbent upon the city: Where will parking spaces displaced by redevelopment be relocated? Where will carriage-tour conductors stage their horses if not the marina parking lot? Will the city sell or lease the land upon which redevelopment is to occur?

Preferably, the public will at least know the options, if not the answers, before a rezoning vote takes place.

It's more likely, however, that these questions won't be answered until it is time to vote on the project itself.

Whatever the case, these matters should be discussed publicly and deliberately -- not during brief interludes chosen to suit the preferences of the Redevelopment Commission and Historic Marina Partners.

Of late, City Council has done a fair job of setting the pace. Nonetheless, if the public wants input and influence over the use of a visible and valuable piece of city-owned land, it must be alert or its opportunity might go by in a flash.

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