Elections

Old Town focus at Bluffton candidate forum

Bluffton town council and mayoral candidates debate during a Bluffton mayoral and candidate forum Oct. 7. The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters at Bluffton Town Hall.
Bluffton town council and mayoral candidates debate during a Bluffton mayoral and candidate forum Oct. 7. The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters at Bluffton Town Hall. jkarr@islandpacket.com
From parking to neighborhood improvement projects, issues affecting Old Town took up much of the debate at Wednesday's forum for Bluffton's mayoral and town council candidates.

About 60 people attended the event, which was hosted by the Greater Bluffton Republican Club. This was the second candidate forum in advance of the Nov. 3 election.

Both mayoral candidates, Lisa Sulka and Cynthia Bensch, participated, as did six of the eight candidates running for two seats on the council.

Challengers Oliver Brown and Jim Sims were absent.

Sulka and Bensch, along with council candidates Ted Huffman, Brendan Downey, Dan Wood, Michael Spears, Eleanor McKinsey-Chandler and Harry Lutz responded to questions prepared by the club and the audience.

Many of those questions revolved around the town's historic district.

PARKING GARAGE

While all the candidates recognized that parking can be challenge in Old Town, they were split on whether the town needs to build a parking garage in the area.

Bensch said she was fully in favor of the idea.

Providing adequate parking is "one of the most important things (the town) can do (to help) businesses survive," she said.

Huffman, who owns a restaurant in Old Town, said he supports the idea of a garage, but questioned whether the town should be responsible for building it.

Wood said building a garage before exploring all other parking alternatives would amount to "jumping to the end prematurely."

Sulka echoed that sentiment. "We are going to find parking and we are going to get creative (to find more) parking spaces," she said.

Spears said a garage would "help immensely," but he wants to ensure it doesn't become an eyesore.

"I don't think anyone wants to see a big, gray structure in Old Town," he said. "But there's a way we can do it and hide it. ... We can put shrubbery and trees all around it so it looks like it fits within town."

McKinsey-Chandler said she supports a garage and also noted that it could be a good source of revenue for the town.

Lutz said in addition to a garage, the town should look into other ideas such as boat docks and a trolley system to help move visitors around Old Town.

NOISE

In response to complaints from Old Town residents, the council last year established a noise ordinance limiting when and how loud live music can be played outdoors.

Some candidates questioned the wisdom of that decision.

"You cannot grow a town if you restrict the town's biggest draw: Old Town," Spears said.

Downey agreed, saying, "Live music needs to stay a part of the town of Bluffton."

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS

Both Sulka and Huffman said ongoing efforts to refurbish Oyster Factory Park were a top priority for the town's limited capital improvement dollars.

Bensch said her biggest priority would be "radically improving the streetscape of Bluffton."

The historic district "looks like it needs a lot of money thrown at it to be first class," she said.

Follow reporter Lucas High on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Lucas.

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