A proposal to spur redevelopment in downtown Beaufort through art and small houses needs work but is a positive step, supporters say.
A so-called arts overlay district would allow artists and craftsmen to sell their work within a grid including the city’s troubled Northwest Quadrant neighborhood and part of Pigeon Point. The plan also includes small houses, which would be built on lots with existing homes and rented to artists, family members or others.
“The idea is to let people do what they want to do,” developer Dick Stewart told Beaufort’s Redevelopment Commission last month.
As an example, Stewart mentioned a woman who said she could rent one of the units to her son for $500 per month. The buildings are expected to cost about $50,000.
Stewart first proposed the district last year, along with fellow developer John Trask. The area includes the historic district north of King Street and Pigeon Point east of Beaufort National Cemetery.
Certain details would need to be clarified, such as allowed uses within the district and designs for the homes, said Redevelopment Commission member Mike Sutton. As part of the plan, several designs for the accessory buildings would be preapproved by the Historic District Review Board.
Sutton supports the effort. The area needs activity, he said.
“Any change beyond what we’re doing now is better than doing nothing,” Sutton said Monday.
The city will address the proposed district in its new development code, planning director Libby Anderson said. The city hopes to pass the new rules by July.
The manufactured houses could face pushback from preservationists and be questioned by residents long-faced with strict building rules.
During a presentation of the proposal last month, longtime Northwest Quadrant resident Henrietta Goode noted her struggle to buy conforming windows and a long-awaited home addition that has had to hold as a result of the historic district’s strict standards. She told the Redevelopment Commission that if standards were relaxed for the small home designs, the allowances should also include historic homes.
“I think we would be very concerned if materials allowed in this new construction were things we don't allow historic houses to use,” Historic Beaufort Foundation director Maxine Lutz told the Redevelopment Commission. “I think we need to protect what's there. I don't like the idea of manufactured housing.”
Panel chairman Jon Verity said no rules would be bent and that the new homes would conform to the historic review panel’s standards.
City planners have reviewed some of the developers’ designs and returned them with suggestions, Trask said. Among their recommendations is that the buildings include sprinklers, he said.
The proposed district has the support of city staff and downtown organizations.
“This proposal has the potential of benefiting the property owners, businesses and residents with virtually no risk to anyone,” Main Street Beaufort chairwoman Mary Ann Thomas wrote in a letter to City Council supporting the proposal.
The Technical College of the Lowcountry, the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce and the Beaufort Arts Council also endorsed the plan.
The small houses “can serve as areas of collaboration and bases for local artists to grow and develop their art and careers,” Beaufort Arts Council director Kim Sullivan said.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling brought attention to the proposal in his most recent weekly newsletter.
“This is not just about housing,” he wrote. “The concept ties to it the economic driver — art.
“There are several issues to be worked through, but this is an idea worth pursuing as it weaves affordable housing, economic development and regenerating neighborhoods together.”