Online petition for park at Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot gathers steam

emoody@beaufortgazette.comApril 14, 2014 

Map shows the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot, subject of a controversial redevelopment proposal.

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A group seeking to halt redevelopment of the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot and turn it into a park instead has started an online petition.

Civic Green, A New Vision -- a loosely connected group -- created the petition Friday. By Monday evening it had more than 700 signatures, and organizers intend eventually to present it to City Council.

"We believe this alternative vision will actually bring more economic prosperity and allow you to enjoy your property to the fullest. Meanwhile, let the city build the type of project it envisions for 'River Place' somewhere else -- just don't ask you to subsidize it," the petition reads.

River Place is the name developers Jim Chaffin and Steve Navarro, working as Historic Marina Partners LLC, are using for their development. They have an agreement with the city to come up with a master plan for the space.

That plan would require City Council approval before any changes to the city-owned property could take place.

Beaufort Realtor John Trask III said he and others with Civic Green want to inform people of the possibilities -- and consequences -- of development.

"This is one part of a multi-part effort that is just beginning to make sure something responsible happens to that property that is currently the marina parking lot," Trask said.

Trask would not talk about the group's next steps, but it is circulating "Civic Green" button pins and fliers.

The petition allows those who "sign" it electronically to also comment on it. Some of the comments include:

  • "When this open space is lost, it is gone forever. Seems like we have empty buildings scattered throughout downtown that can be used first before this valuable property is developed and lost forever."
  • "Our public views and recreational areas should remain for the use of our community and visitors."
  • "Beaufort needs to remain the quaint, historical town it has always been. There's no need in building structures on the only parking lot downtown that will mar the view of our beautiful Beaufort River."
Councilman Mike Sutton said he finds the online conversation and petition interesting and could be swayed by the arguments. However, he wishes people would ask more questions and be better informed before commenting.

"The reality is we're talking about a parking lot, not about a marina, and I think that's some of the misunderstanding," Sutton said.

Councilman George O'Kelley Jr., who has said he won't support any redevelopment of the lot until there's an acceptable plan to replace the parking that would be lost, said the petition won't have much effect on his vote.

"I voted no, and I'm going to vote no again," he said.

Councilman Mike McFee said he's reading the comments but doesn't think they're the most effective way for people to get their points across.

"I think more important to me are the statements of the people who showed up at the meeting (April 8) and the groups who gave their input," he said, referring to a City Council public hearing related to rezoning the property.

City Council is considering whether to rezone the property to "core commercial," which would allow the mixed-use commercial and residential development Historic Marina Partners has indicated it will seek. Council will discuss the process it will use to make that decision during a 5 p.m. work session Tuesday at City Hall, 1911 Boundary St.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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