Patty and Scot Clark donned bright orange T-shirts and waved campaign signs on Port Royal’s main street this week, excited for the potential of their candidate Joe DeVito to spur positive change in the town.
The Clarks moved permanently to the home they own on 11th Street about 18 months ago. Cruising around on their golf cart, they’ve encountered bumpy roads unsuitable to travel, and their own road seems to be crumbling at the edges.
They’ve watched at recent council meetings as big decisions have been punted until residents chose new policymakers and believe DeVito is the person to get things going.
DeVito was elected mayor in a tight race Tuesday and, with incoming Town Council member Kevin Phillips, gives the town two new faces who have promised to elevate Port Royal from its perceived status as the afterthought of Beaufort County’s municipalities.
“He’s going to open up other avenues for us as a town to 1.) Get our name out there and 2.) Get the funding that is available that we just haven’t solved yet,” Scot Clark said. “Because nobody has had the connections to do so.”
With new leadership and the re-election of Councilman Jerry Ashmore this week, here are some changes residents might expect.
A sign where the Spanish Moss Trail ends in a wall of overgrown former railroad bed encourages users to fund the remaining sections of the biking and walking path.
The rail trail is eventually planned to extend south along the Battery Creek waterfront in Port Royal’s Old Village area to its starting point at Mile 0 near Sands Beach.
DeVito, an avid bicyclist who recently resigned as president of the trail’s board, said completing the path will be an economic driver for the town.
“Under my leadership, we’re going to go after that money find money to bring the trail across Ribaut Road and get the trail connected to the Sands,” DeVito said during a forum for candidates in October.
Completing the trail is part of DeVito’s larger stated goal of improving roads and establishing safer routes for people walking and bicycling. He’s also said the town should be able to expedite the construction of a new road planned as part of a private redevelopment project by looking outside of the developers and local tax dollars to find sources of money for the work.
Phillips has said some road improvements could come from the town advocating for a larger share of traffic impact fees from development, the bulk of which go to the county.
Ribaut Road, a four-lane thoroughfare through Port Royal and Beaufort, could be repainted to narrow lanes and introduce a bike lane, DeVito said. He’s also supported long-range planning to maintain town assets, like the roads south of 16th Street in the downtown area that badly need repaving in many areas.
Patty Clark said she was encouraged by DeVito’s experience on the county road tax committee.
“He knows there are pots of money out there available to improve roads,” Clark said. “I’ve never heard anyone on council speak to that.”
While Port Royal’s population now rivals the City of Beaufort’s, the town’s budget is only a fraction of its neighbor’s in part because of the revenue generated by commercial activity.
The town’s newly elected leaders have said encouraging development in appropriate areas is a way to drive more revenue.
Ashmore referenced the highly trafficked area along S.C. 170 on the western edge of the town’s growth boundaries as a place to attract new businesses. Vacant land and commercial property along Ribaut Road are ripe for new businesses and the fees and tax dollars they would generate.
Developer Dick Stewart has proposed a new hotel at a former Coca-Cola warehouse in the area. More new business is expected as part of the port development.
Leaders of a local economic development group, with a commission that includes Town Manager Van Willis, say they are working on a strong prospect that would relocate a business and dozens of jobs to an available space on 170.
“We think Port Royal is going to pop, we really do,” said John O’Toole, executive director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation that works to attract and retain businesses throughout the county. “And there will be a lot of opportunity.”
The Clarks, repeating a familiar refrain among residents in the community, said they want to maintain the town’s coastal charm and avoid some of the issues due to rapid growth experienced in southern Beaufort County.
Patty Clark noted the camaraderie of candidates who gathered on Paris Avenue near Town Hall for the election much of the day Tuesday and shared a pot of chili and adult beverages.
“It’s a community of all walks of life,” she said. “It’s just an amazing place to live, it really is.”