Where should a realigned Bluffton Parkway segment cross Buckwalter Parkway?
That seemingly minor point related to a road that isn't funded and might never be built has sparked tensions between some Beaufort County and Bluffton officials. It's also raised questions about local control of county-funded road projects and landowners' rights.
At issue is whether Beaufort County Council should keep the existing intersection design it adopted nearly five years ago, or accept a new alignment Bluffton officials and landowner John Reed prefer. That new plan would shift the intersection between the two parkways about 350 feet north.
The realigned Bluffton Parkway route would run 2.5 miles from Buck Island Road to Buckwalter Parkway, eliminating the "dogleg" around Pinecrest. The project, part of the 2006 penny transportation tax referendum, could cost between $20 and $26 million -- money the county does not currently have.
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The existing dogleg section of the current Bluffton Parkway still would exist, but likely would be renamed if the new segment of the parkway is built.
County Council is expected to debate the competing intersection designs tonight at 5 p.m. at the Hilton Head Island library. The council's Public Facilities Committee voted 4-3 last week to keep the current design.
Bluffton town manager Anthony Barrett argues the new design, created late last year at a cost of $100,000, has many advantages, include a more relaxed curve and preservation of development space. It also could cost substantially less, he said.
"This is a town-requested change to the current route, which should make no difference to the county," Barrett said in an email.
Reed, of Reed Development, owns most of the land along the proposed roadway route and much of the intersection. He's offered to donate land for the new parkway alignment -- saving up to $6 million in acquisition costs -- but only if the county accepts the town's new intersection plan. The existing design would bisect the center of his nearly 50-acre tract, rendering it undevelopable.
"We have never said we would give them the property and not have some say in where the right of way is going to go," he said last week.
He believes the county's reluctance to change the route stems from a "miscommunication." He also suggested legal action if the intersection isn't changed.
County officials see the issue differently, pointing out that building the roadway would open up vast amounts of land, much of which Reed owns, to new housing development. They also note that Bluffton Parkway's leading purpose is for safe hurricane evacuations.
"I hear a lot about economic development, but I can assure you, it's economic growth not economic development that we are talking about. We are talking about housing, we are talking about retail," County Councilmember Jerry Stewart said. "... I don't think we are talking about large business going in there ... with high-paying jobs and associated benefits."
Land for the road should donated either way, he said, because the road is generally unaffected by the intersection design.
"It's sort of like we are being held hostage to some extent here," Stewart said, adding that he's not sure the new parkway segment should be built in the first place.
County administrator Gary Kubic also believes the land should be donated regardless of which intersection plan is chosen.
"What I would like to see is, instead of a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, that we negotiate all component parts based on the merits of plan A and plan B," Kubic said, "and not have it as a proposition of, if we don't go with one alternative, we are going to have to pay full price for the right of way."
It's not clear if the council will vote on an intersection plan tonight, but any vote on the issue likely be will close.
Councilman Tabor Vaux, who represents Bluffton, said he's not sure what's wrong with the existing design.
Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch, who represents a greater Bluffton district, also is skeptical of the new alignment, saying last week that there are many unanswered questions.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.