An increase in traffic and noise in Old Town Bluffton has dominated discussion among seven candidates vying for two empty Town Council seats.
While the hopefuls agree on the need to nurse the May River back to health and create more local jobs, parking problems and late-night noise on Calhoun Street has provided the best glimpse into the decisions each candidate would make if chosen in the Nov. 5 election.
The candidate list includes many faces familiar to Bluffton town government. Only one has never run for council before.
Candidates include incumbents Oliver Brown and Michael Raymond, and challengers Gary Bensch, husband of Beaufort County Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch; former Councilman Fred Hamilton; Garfield Moss, who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2008; Larry Toomer, who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2005; and former Councilman Charlie Wetmore.
For four months, Town Council has fielded complaints from Calhoun Street residents and business owners about traffic and noise.
At an Oct. 17 forum, Brown said the council has heeded the calls for action. He pointed to the panel's decision to paint no-parking zones in front of mailboxes, driveways and fire hydrants on the road between Bridge Street and May River Road. The town also plans to put a four-way stop at the intersection of Calhoun and Lawrence streets,
Brown also said he'd support a noise ordinance that would prohibit amplified music after 10 p.m.
"We're listening, and something will be done," he said.
Raymond maintains the problems are a product of economic growth in the historic district.
"Guess what? People have discovered us. We are the victims of our own success," he said at the forum.
Like Brown, he championed council's parking solution.
But Raymond, who plays live music in Old Town, said more studies need to be done before the noise ordinance is changed.
At an Oct. 25 forum, Bensch said he'd support an ordinance to end outdoor amplified music after 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends.
"This will not go away until deliberate changes are made," he said. "It appears to be a festering problem that requires council to be aggressive."
Hamilton has praised the town's decision to paint no-parking zones on Calhoun Street, but he wants money from accommodations tax to go toward paving a public parking lot.
He also said council must act on the late-night noise at restaurants along the street.
"This is a mixed-use community, a live-and-work community," he said. "We must find a way for them to coexist."
Moss has said the town had planned for the street to be the heart of the historic district, but not subject to the late-night noise and parking overflow.
"It's a simple issue," he said. "If the residents on Calhoun and Lawrence streets knew things would be this destructive and noisy," they would never supported the new development.
He added that he would lease to the town five acres of his Old Town property to accommodate public parking.
Toomer has suggested the town pave additional parking, and wants to add a decibel reading to the noise ordinance to make it more enforceable.
"Music doesn't need to be heard from two miles away for everyone to have fun," he said. "But the change has got to be done in a way that's fair to business."
Wetmore would also amend the noise ordinance to place limits on the decibel level of amplified music. He has also vouched for striping individual parking spots on Calhoun Street, something the council declined to do at its meeting earlier this month.
"No matter what, something should be done," he said at the Oct. 17 forum. "We're at a crossroads, and we need clear direction on what to do."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.