Plans for a proposed downtown Beaufort parking garage received initial approval from the city’s historic review panel Wednesday.
It drew mixed reviews from residents.
Members of the panel and public acknowledged the city’s need for more parking but debated whether the size of the building was appropriate. The marathon discussion stretched three hours at City Hall.
Some welcomed the plan and called it essential for the vitality of downtown businesses.
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Others argued the massive building isn’t appropriate for a National Landmark Historic District and said more collaboration is needed with the city and developer Dick Stewart, who is proposing the garage.
Stewart and representatives from his contractor, Structured Parking Solutions, said there has been plenty of public talk about parking and that action is needed.
“We have been waiting for someone else to solve the parking problem for two decades,” Stewart said.
Stewart is proposing a three-story parking garage and 496 new spaces at 918 Craven St. The structure would be 32 feet tall and have a 46,000-square-foot footprint at the block bordered by Craven, West, Port Republic and Charles streets.
The aesthetic details are yet to be worked out.
Stewart wants the garage for its ability to host major conventions, hotel guests, restaurant customers and others who use businesses he owns downtown. Parking in the garage will be available to the public unless the garage is booked, he said.
The size fits city zoning requirements, but the historic review panel charged with protecting the look of the historic district wrestled with how to judge such a large structure.
A parking garage should not be expected to solve all of the downtown parking issues, city planners said in their review of the project. A smaller structure within the block might be costlier but “is the only solution that will not have a detrimental effect on the historic district,” staff wrote.
City planner Lauren Kelly noted that the project was the biggest to come before the Historic District Review Board.
“It’s OK to struggle with this,” she told board members. “And it’s a big building, so it will take a lot of time.”
But some on the board, including chairman Joel Newman, expressed support for the garage early in the discussion. He noted the lengthy history of parking studies in the city started just before he arrived in Beaufort in the 1970s.
Board member John Dickerson said if Stewart wants to invest millions into a garage, the proposal should be considered.
“This is not the first time a small community has put in a large parking garage,” he said. “Everywhere it goes in, it improves the community.”
Part of the concern raised Wednesday included the effect of the parking deck on the historic Tabernacle Baptist Church across Craven Street. The church is the burial site for Beaufort hero Robert Smalls, said Kenneth Hodges, the church’s pastor and a state representative.
Hodges said a group from the church attempted to raise a plastic model made of PVC pipe to envision the size of the proposed garage Monday. The model buckled, Hodges said.
Fred Washington said better communication is needed between the city and private sector in creating a parking solution.
“Yes, we have to solve the parking problem,” said Washington, a former city councilman and school board member. “But I don’t like the direction this is going, honestly.”
Stewart reiterated that the garage is not pitched as a solution to the city’s parking problems and that Beaufort leaders should continue to work for more parking.
Numerous parking studies have shown the city needs more parking spaces. The most recent study, done last year, recommended 500 spaces eventually be added downtown.
“When does the larger community need outweigh the adverse impacts?” asked Quinn Peitz, a member of the city’s Historic District Review Board.