At first blush, a request to annex 18 acres of riverfront property into Bluffton seems like no big deal.
A homeowner has asked the town to annex his acreage on JC's Cove and rezone it so he can build four homes for his children. Under current zoning, he could build only two homes.
But this is not a typical piece of property. This environmentally sensitive area deserves special treatment. For this reason, we're pleased to see the May River Watershed Action Plan Advisory Committee recommend that Town Council deny the request.
It should do so. Otherwise, the rezoning will undermine a land-preservation district that is helping to protect the vulnerable May River.
Former committee chairman Geoff Scott and Fred Holland, a retired director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hollings Marine Laboratory, have raised valid points that to approve this one rezoning request would set a precedent for future rezoning requests. And what grounds would the town have for approving one and not future ones? It wouldn't.
As a result, population density would increase, as would runoff into the river -- a river that is benefitting from the current development restrictions the district imposes. For example, in late September, the state reopened four miles of the river for shellfish harvesting that had been closed since 2009 because of high levels of fecal coliform.
As the economy heats up again and development is predicted to tick upward in Beaufort County, loosening zoning restrictions around the river is exactly the wrong approach.
And five years of hard work by citizens who got the district enacted in 2010 would be undone. The group chose the district's goals, including preserving the existing low density and rural residential character of the S.C. 46 (May River Road) corridor from the Pritchardville area into Bluffton; preserving the environmental integrity of the May River; allowing only low-density development and requiring setbacks.
How can citizens have faith in their local government if a significant plan that received a large amount of public input can be cast aside so easily? Town Council members should take that into account when voting.
And residents should take note of how their representatives vote. It will reveal which members take environmental protection -- and public input -- seriously.