Air station buffer zones subject of Thursday meeting

Beaufort County could play a lead role in an effort to prevent future development near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, a pair of consultants from a California planning firm said Thursday.

Consultants from the Design, Community & Environment of Berkeley, Calif., hosted a public meeting at the Burton Wells Recreation Center with about 30 residents who own property in the AICUZ buffer zones near MCAS Beaufort. The firm was hired by the Lowcountry Council of Governments last year to develop an implementation plan for a "transfer of development rights" program the land owners might soon be asked to participate in. The firm presented the first draft of that plan Thursday.

Under the TDR program, property owners in the AICUZ could sell their development rights to local governments or developers who could then use those rights as credits to build in other areas in Beaufort, Port Royal and elsewhere in the county at higher densities than otherwise allowed. If the development rights are sold, homes and buildings already on the property can remain, but the property cannot be developed further.

The consultants recommended Thursday that only property owners with more than three acres of land be allowed to participate in the program, which they believed Beaufort County should run.

"We're trying to make this as simple as possible," said Rick Kruetz, one of the consultants. "Making it simpler makes it easier to comprehend and it usually tends to work better. We think the roles ... as we've proposed them makes the most sense."

The council was awarded a $250,000 grant last year from the S.C. Military Task Force to start the TDR program but would need to establish other revenue sources to keep the program going, said Aaron Engstrom, one of the firm's planners.

Engstrom said the firm would take the feedback gathered at Thursday's meeting into consideration as they assemble the final implementation plan, which is expected to be completed next month.