Best to start all visions with tight grip on reality

newsroom@islandpacket.comMay 19, 2014 

The Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot photographed April 15, 2014.

ERIN MOODY — Staff photo

Beaufort in a matter of weeks has switched from planning 100 years into the future to dusting off plans from a decade ago.

Looking in either direction needs a sharper focus.

The city's Civic Master Plan, with its visions for the next century only recently adopted, got mugged in its first brush with the real world. Its vision for redeveloping the parking lot at the Beaufort Downtown Marina was panned by the public. The city was then forced to drop the developer it had invited to draw plans for new uses for the Bay Street lot.

Members of the public who were appalled at what the city was considering urged that it instead return to the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park master plan produced in 2002. The city paid almost $200,000 for the plan by Sasaki and Associates of Massachusetts.

Sasaki's plan shows the marina parking lot with less parking and more green space -- certainly not the commercial and residential construction the city was considering as the key to the future.

Now is the time to quit having visions and start a stare-down with cold facts.

City staff attached cost estimates to building the expanded park ($3.5 million), and annual maintenance ($60,000). That helps.

Without a lot of money for the park, and even more money for a new parking lot or parking deck to replace the old one, the whole thing is a moot point. Where would money come from?

And no one should think that implementing the Sasaki plan would be a walk in the park.

Don't forget that three years elapsed between acceptance of the Sasaki master plan and the start of construction when the city made extensive repairs and renovations to the Waterfront Park in 2005. During that time at least three other planning or architectural firms got involved. Then there was the permitting process.

Also, residents aired concerns at every turn. It took 20 public meetings to reach consensus on specific materials and designs. Then came the time and cost overruns during the actual construction.

Redoing the popular park that dates to the mid-'70s cost more than initially believed.

These are the realities that can burst even the best of visions.

But we encourage the city to pursue the suggestion to finally finish the Sasaki master plan. Find out if it is feasible in dollars and cents. Do not pay outside consultants or planners to make that call.

Let the public, which seems energized by the prospect, see what it would entail.

Let this new pursuit start with greater public input, and a more firm grip on reality.

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