Opponents of a plan to redevelop the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot scored an apparent victory this week when all five City Council members indicated they no longer support the project.
One hopes it does not prove to be a pyrrhic victory.
For although it is clear what residents of Beaufort do not want on this public plot, the populace's vision for the property is in no sharper focus.
Perhaps clarity is not possible until the smoke clears. Or perhaps, as one council member hinted Tuesday, there is no hope whatsoever of redeveloping the parking lot in the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, there are at least three reasons not to end this conversation just yet: From the den of opposition came a constructive suggestion -- turn the lot into a park. It could become an extension of the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, or it could become something like the boating and aquatics center once proposed as part of a marina day-dock expansion. Since a park has at least a modicum of support, it seems like a good time to determine its feasibility. A prerequisite of any commercial redevelopment of the marina lot was new downtown parking to offset lost spaces. A company has expressed interest in building a facility on land recently purchased by the Beaufort Inn. Residents might be no more receptive to a parking garage there than they were to the retail, dining and accommodations proposed for the marina lot. However, with a player at the table, it seems like a good time to explore the possibilities. The city is adding a new mooring field in the Beaufort River, to be managed by the company that operates the marina. One goal is to bring serious sailors into downtown for provisions and amenities. It seems like a good time to ask whether the current marina store, parking lot and tour embarkation staged there serve that purpose, and whether these are the highest and best uses of waterfront property.
After mulling these ideas, most residents might still want to stand pat. So be it. It's their property, and they have demonstrated they will not flatten just because officialdom fires up its steamroller.
Other lessons to be gleaned: Public-private partnerships might be in vogue among planners and in economic-development circles, but if these partnerships are perceived as an end-around taxpayer sentiment and oversight, they will fail. Some public-private partnerships create infrastructure for general benefit, like a transit system, or amenities for public use, like the Spanish Moss Trail. But others amount to subsidy for private interests, and such deals rightly draw a higher degree of public scrutiny. Such business should be conducted in broad daylight to the greatest extent possible. Put first things first. Create consensus for a goal, then build consensus about how the goal will be reached.
In this case, the Redevelopment Commission tried to reverse the proper order. By soliciting private developers' ideas first, public input was limited to after-the-fact forums that produced little discernible effect on the proposal. Put another way, the city asked the public what color to paint the walls, and the public responded by tearing down walls it didn't want in the first place.
It is encouraging that City Council ultimately heeded the public's will. Now, it is everyone's job to harness the energy that stopped the flawed process and bring about positive change.