Beaufort residents were crystal clear Thursday night during a meeting on proposed changes to the city's building code: they not only don't trust the review process, they aren't sure they want form-based code at all.
But if the process moves forward, they want to be involved.
"What we're nervous about is there is a hidden agenda," resident Pat Whitehead said.
Two main issues -- participation and need -- emerged at the informational meeting about the code, which focuses more on building appearance rather than use.
Craig Lewis, a consultant in the city's Office of Civic Investment, said he understands residents' reservations. That's why the city held the meeting and plans others with neighborhood groups.
The code-review committee, which would have 12- to 14-members, would consist of 10 members from city boards or commissions, two to four developers or builders, and two "community leaders."
Many at Thusday's meeting renewed their call for a second group made of neighborhood and historic district representatives.
"We want to be involved in the process from the beginning instead of being told down the road what has been decided," resident Terry Hussey said.
Several neighborhood groups and preservationists have asked repeatedly for the second committee and presented City Council with a petition to that effect. Of particular concern is preserving the downtown historic district.
Resident Paul Michau went as far as to ask City Council, which will appoint the committee, to "put aside all the decisions you have already made."
"Council is going to elect the people they want to get the end result they are looking for," he said.
Other concerns centered around whether a city-wide form-based code was needed.
"I don't think the community has ever really been asked if that is what they want," Whitehead said.
Palmetto Trust board member Cynthia Jenkins questioned how the code would help preserve Beaufort's character and charm.
"You're taking away creativity," she said. "You're taking away the uniqueness a city and a community has."
The code would provide predictability and standards intended to encourage development and growth, Lewis said.
"I've mapped and looked at your town 20 ways to Sunday," he said. "I know the areas with issues."
But Conway Ivy of the Historic Beaufort Foundation was not sold on the idea that professional planners could properly address all the community's needs.
"How can a small group of people, brilliant planners and all that, determine what needs to be built on every parcel in the city?" he asked.
The code would set limits and regulations for building size, height, lot placement and even size and placement of windows and doors in some cases, Lewis said. Those decisions would be based on what the surrounding buildings look like and what the area's needs are, he said.