The Beaufort area is richly endowed with forward-thinking residents and elected officials who have taken extraordinary measures to plan wisely for our region's inevitable growth. The Boundary Street Master Plan is a perfect example of this smart planning.
This work has not always been easy. If the Commercial Center Revitalization Act is passed by the legislature this session, such planning might get easier in South Carolina.
The act will make plans such as the Boundary Street Master Plan easier to adopt and implement. In 2005, the City of Beaufort formally embarked on this plan, which essentially is a blueprint to redevelop a declining commercial corridor.
Fast forward a few years to the middle of the recession when towns everywhere have commercial centers in desperate need of revitalization. Beaufort was ahead of the game, skillfully poised with a plan that is ready to take advantage of economic reinvestment.
The master plan has not had an easy time of it. The prevalent regulations and policies of state agencies are in complete contradiction to the creation of mixed use, walkable community centers such as those outlined in the Boundary Street plan. The Commercial Center Revitalization Act will codify model policies and ordinances that reflect the need for green space, energy efficiency, walkability and mixed-income housing -- like the Boundary Street plan.
One important obstacle to creating great places in South Carolina is the view that roads are to be built with only automobiles in mind. Bay Street is such an inviting place to walk because a pedestrian does not have to fear for his or her life. Try such a walk down Boundary Street today. I did recently, and hit my head on a traffic sign above the sidewalk.
A key provision of the Commercial Center Revitalization Act is a directive to the Councils of Governments requiring they "develop urban complete streets in cooperation with the South Carolina Department of Transportation to serve these centers with a balanced, diverse set of travel modes." This provides an expansion of the definition of a street for DOT, a much needed change. The resolution would also equip every municipality in the state with a set of model ordinances that can be used as design standards when developers seek local funding sources, such as tax increment financing, that would ensure mixed uses, walkability and encourage increased property values around the revitalized commercial centers.
A good example of state level obstacles in the Boundary Street plan is the need to lower the speed limit within the plan boundaries. DOT has denied the request to lower speed limits based on a set of criteria that takes no view of pedestrian use. The state agency adheres to a rule book that needs some rewriting to allow towns to plan for innovative redevelopment.
Right now the rule book only considers the car. I am certain that the sign I bumped was at a very specific regulation height -- a height that did not take into account that anyone might actually walk on the sidewalk.
The City of Beaufort is to be commended for continuing to fight to uphold the community vision enshrined in the Boundary Street Master Plan. A local government should not have to fight for the privilege of planning for its future. The Commercial Center Revitalization Act ensures it will not.