Beaufort officials informally decided against combining the Design Review Board and Historic District Review Board into one group that would review all proposed new development and renovations throughout the city -- at least for now.
During a workshop Tuesday, City Council members discussed a suggestion to fuse the two groups.
The Historic District Review Board reviews all projects located inside Beaufort's Historic District.
The Design Review Board handles projects in all other areas of the city.
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Combining the boards could help reduce the time and expense staff spends on each board and foster a more "holistic" review of projects throughout the city, Planning Administrator Libby Anderson said.
For instance, commercial projects outside the historic district might benefit from a review by Historic District Review Board members, who follow strict architectural and design guidelines to ensure a project fits into its surroundings.
Beaufort wants projects -- particularly commercial developments outside the historic district -- to have a more "Lowcountry look," Anderson said.
Projects in the historic district could also benefit from Design Review Board members, some of whom have engineering or landscaping expertise, Anderson said.
Combining the boards would not mean a change in standards, Anderson said. The board would use different criteria to review projects within and outside the historic district, she said.
Multiple members of both boards spoke during Tuesday's discussion, some of them saying they worry a combined board would create too much work for the volunteer members.
"I spend three to four hours on a set of drawings at a time," Design Review Board Chairman Don Starkey said. "We had three different projects to review last week."
Starkey said it might be more appropriate to discuss combining the boards after Beaufort implements a city-wide, form-based code -- a new zoning code that likely will reduce the number of projects that require design review board approval.
Tuesday's discussion sometimes shifted to whether the boards need more tools to better regulate development and ensure projects fit within Beaufort's existing character.
Design Review Board member and local architect Eric Brown said his group has reviewed some interesting projects lately, but cannot weigh in on many architectural aspects of development.
The Design Review Board often finds itself in conflict with applicants as it tries to fight off "the invasion of bland corporate architecture," Brown said.
"We have to learn how to balance things out so we don't lose that 'Beaufort brand,'" Brown said. "We don't have the tools, so we're having to negotiate to get there."
Officials and board members agreed more discussion is needed.