The colorful maps, crayons and candy at each cafeteria table hinted at an elementary exercise.
But the hundreds of area residents who filled Lady’s Island Elementary School on Thursday took on a complicated subject. The community forum hosted by the Coastal Conservation League and grassroots Sea Island Corridor Coalition targeted the lofty goal of designing Lady’s Island’s future.
Nothing was cemented, but ideas were scribbled along the islands and thoroughfares of the county maps and collected. Organizers will continue to collect feedback and said more events are likely.
The turnout for the community-driven exercise encouraged organizers.
“The fact 350 people came down here is a game-changer,” said Chuck Newton, whose Sea Island Corridor Coalition has mobilized residents over traffic and development issues. “It’s clear people care about what’s going on and want to have a say in it. That’s the most important thing.”
In all, 325 people signed in Thursday; about 100 more than had RSVP’d.
Noted urban planner Victor Dover, who has worked on plans for Port Royal and Beaufort’s Boundary Street, opened with an interactive presentation explaining planning concepts highlighting mixed uses, walking, biking and landscaping.
Participants received keypads and chimed in with opinions on particular street designs. Responses were used to determine more than half the crowd was older than 64.
Dover cautioned that the forum wasn’t representative of the community and encouraged participants to think about younger generations when brainstorming ideas.
“It’s for puppies we design these doghouses,” he said.
Dover noted that it can be difficult to stop development long enough to think about design but that the sizable crowd showed the community cared and could steer plans.
After the presentation, attendees huddled in small groups to list Lady’s Island’s needs.
Ed Atkins, who lives off of Airport Circle near the new Wal-Mart shopping center, suggested a bus route from Chowan Creek Bluff to downtown. Beaufort builder Merritt Patterson, also part of Atkins’ group, said the public transportation could be a trolley system, and they debated its merits and drawbacks.
The group also advocated landscaping and street improvements already outlined in a plan for the Village Center, a planned mixed-use area of Lady’s Island. Another group that included Beaufort planning director Libby Anderson suggested a bike trail running in a circle encompassing Lady’s Island, part of Port Royal and downtown Beaufort.
Ideas also included bike paths to Meridian Road between Sea Island Parkway and Lady’s Island Drive, a waterfront park at Whitehall across from downtown Beaufort and implementing road projects suggested by a city traffic study.
“I want to see how they handle everyone’s ideas,” Lady’s Island resident Scott Lewis said.
The league planned to continue gathering feedback from the forum to present to public officials. Beaufort city and county planners, administrators and elected officials attended.
“Our hope is people leave feeling empowered,” said Rikki Parker, south coast project manager for the Coastal Conservation League.