Plans for a Red Lobster and Olive Garden moved a step forward Tuesday after Beaufort City Council gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would allow a building housing both restaurants to sit further from Boundary Street than currently allowed.
Council also approved on first reading an application to rezone 1403 Greenlawn Drive so it can be used as parking for the restaurants and a small public park.
A second reading is needed on both issues.
303 Associates applied in October to change development regulations to allow the building to sit 32 feet off Boundary Street rather than 10 to 15 feet, as allowed in the 2001 Marsh Gardens planned unit development.
After meeting some resistance from city staff and Beaufort's planning commission -- both of which recommended denial of the application -- officials announced last week that they had reached a compromise on the proposal.
The main point of contention was a "slip road" between Boundary and the restaurants. City staff said it wouldn't fit with the pedestrian-friendly environment it wants for the area. 303 Associates said the street was necessary for parking lot traffic flow and claimed the city's own Boundary Street Master Plan called for a "slip road" in the area.
Mayor Billy Keyserling said last week the city likely will allow the road, but has asked developers to shift the restaurant west to allow room for another building along Boundary. The more buildings fronting the street, the more urban the feel, Keyserling said at the time.
303 Associates also deleted its request for city council to approve the restaurants' development plans rather than sending them through the Design Review Board, as is protocol.
During the meeting, Chris Damgen, a city resident, asked council to consider the intent of Beaufort's Boundary Street Master Plan as it made its decision.
Keyserling said the development team, staff and others have taken that point into consideration and made an effort to bring the plans and the city's vision "as close as they possibly can given the market, given the economy and given the time."
"I believe that all the parties have come together and come up with something that allows... this particular project to move forward," Keyserling said.
Council members approved both proposals unanimously with little discussion.
Councilman Gary Fordham was absent.
Beaufort's planning commission has not yet reviewed the proposal to rezone 1403 Greenlaw Drive from neighborhood commercial to the Marsh Gardens planned unit development.
Fordham has said in the past he doesn't think council should vote -- even on first reading -- on a proposal until the city's volunteer advisory board has weighed in on it.
But Keyserling and councilman Mike Sutton said they thought it was appropriate to move the request along.
"This council has extreme responsibility to understand fully what is happening within the redevelopment areas of the city, and we've often waited until other groups have opined on the subject with, sometimes, me wondering if they really understand the greater vision of the city and how their elected officials feel about it," Sutton said. "We represent the public at large. ...They need to hear from us what our first impression is on the subject."