Buckwalter Place touted as community of future

Dozens of people involved in real estate and development toured Bluffton's Buckwalter Place and participated in a discussion about creating economically sustainable communities Thursday.

The event was organized by the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit organization with members in 95 countries.

Panelists and organizers pointed to Buckwalter Place as a good example of a new style of walkable or bikeable development that they said is providing a much-desired alternative to suburban subdivisions and could jump-start recovery from the recession.

Although some people do want to live in suburban neighborhoods, local developers and government officials would be wise to provide options for people who seek a different lifestyle, said panelist Demetri Baches, managing partner of international planning firm DPZ Pacific.

"If it's the only thing built, it presents a huge problem," said Baches, who lives in and helped design Beaufort's Habersham development. "And you can see that here in Beaufort County."

Another panelist, Naomi Lewis, studied Buckwalter Place when devising a rating system to measure economic sustainability in large developments while pursuing a master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Similar to existing green-building certification systems, Lewis' system seeks to evaluate a project's chances to succeed over time, both for its developers and the surrounding community.

The 94-acre, mixed-use development is planned to include a mix of businesses, housing, dining, shopping, recreation opportunities and public buildings and spaces that supporters hope will allow people to live, work and play without traveling elsewhere.

Parts of the development are owned by Bluffton, Beaufort County, a shopping center developer and Buckwalter Place's developers.

Plans call for eight entrances, a greenway trail that will connect to other pathways and dense, urban-style construction including multi-story buildings with vehicles underneath or in parking garages.