Light on details but heavy on ideas, Beaufort residents got an inkling Wednesday of what developers could put in the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot.
"In the future, our goal would be visitors see no demarcation from where historic downtown ended and River Place started," developer Jim Chaffin said.
Chaffin, along with Steve Navarro, make up the Historic Marina Partners group the city will work with to develop the 4.2 acre site.
They presented a written vision for the parking lot -- including a boutique hotel, retail, restaurants and full-time and seasonal residences -- during the meeting at City Hall.
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"The goal is to get a significant core of residents living downtown, and they would be in a building that would have flats, for a lack of a better word -- single-story flats in 2 and 3 bedroom configurations," Chaffin said.
Details about the mass and scale of a development, along with the number of stores, hotel rooms and residences, were not available. Navarro said the firm is contracting with companies to do studies on what would be feasible.
That information will be available when drawings are ready in about eight weeks, he said. Another public presentation will be scheduled.
More than 150 people filled Council Chambers pews and stood along walls Wednesday night. Their reactions were mixed.
Architect Howell Beach first complimented Chaffin and his work, but then strongly argued against any development on the city-owned property.
"When you've got the golden goose right there by the water, that's not what you want to sell off to developers," he said. "It might never come around again."
Matt McAlhaney, City Loft Hotel owner, wanted more economic impact studies and information about how development will benefit those already in Beaufort.
"What are we doing to make sure the citizenry is being protected and the tax base is being protected in this project?" he asked.
Becky Trask said she didn't understand why a development is even being considered and doesn't believe it will fit into the city's character.
" They come here not a see a 'la-dee-dah' hotel and not to see a 'la-dee-dah' dress shop," she said. "They come to see Beaufort and you are talking about blocking that."
When residents protested there wasn't enough information to form an opinion, Mayor Billy Keyserling said the process is slow and deliberate on purpose.
"We are not going to do anything behind closed doors and there is going to be no secret deal," he said. "Because this ... is too important to have accusations and finger pointing that someone has been left out and hoodwinked."
Chaffin listed four guiding principles, including incorporating the historic nature of downtown, enhancing the business community, connecting to the water and using sustainable designs and materials.
"We're writing this down, we're handing this out, you can hold us to this," he said.
He insisted that Historic Marina Partners is invested in creating a project to help Beaufort.
"The world is waking up to Beaufort," he said. "We understand that. We have probably committed the cardinal sin in the development business by falling in love with a project."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.
- Public meeting set to discuss preliminary Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot development plans: http://bit.ly/1jBAzx2
- Plan for Beaufort Downtown Marina weeks away, Feb. 2, 2014: http://bit.ly/OQTkmB
- Developers readying preliminary Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot plans; City preps to rezone properties, Jan. 9, 2014: http://bit.ly/OQTmLa
- Marina developers combining data with public input as they create plan, Dec. 5, 2013: http://bit.ly/OVsnOp