Elections

Old Town or whole town focus for Bluffton Town Council?

What does Bluffton Town Council focus on? Old Town or whole town?

That's the question being asked by some voters -- and at least one candidate -- in the Nov. 17 runoff for two open council seats.

Some see town government and the projects it undertakes as too Old Town-centric.

Three council members live in the vicinity of the historic district, including Councilmen Ted Huffman and Larry Toomer, as well the newly re-elected Mayor Lisa Sulka. Fred Hamilton, who was not on the ballot this year, lives in the Buck Island-Simmonsville area of town. Karen Lavery, who did not run for re-election after serving a single term, lives in the Townes at Buckwalter.

Many of the council's recent initiatives -- banning smoking in Dubois Park, limiting parking on Calhoun Street, refurbishing Oyster Factory Park, installing police security cameras and pushing for more affordable housing options -- target issues in Old Town.

Harry Lutz, who along with Huffman and Dan Wood is seeking a council seat in the runoff -- thinks that rest of the town could use some attention, too.

"We have got to start paying attention to the whole area, not just the one-square mile (around Old Town)," Lutz said last week in the lead up to Tuesday's election.

"I'd like to try to stop the delineation between Old Town and Bluffton. I would like it to (all) be Bluffton," he said. "I recognize the uniqueness of Old Town, but at this point there is more to Bluffton than Old Town."

While Lutz trailed Huffman and Wood in overall votes, he dominated in the town's voting District 4D, which is several miles west of Old Town and encompasses much of the Hampton Hall neighborhood where he lives.

Lutz won more than 47 percent of the vote there, compared to less than 34 percent for Wood and Huffman combined.

Huffman, an Old Town businesses owner, said, "The newer parts of Bluffton should definitely have a seat at the table."

But, he said it makes sense that much of the council's focus is on Old Town issues.

"Old Town is our core; people don't come here to go to Buckwalter," he said. "Without Old Town, we are just Anywhere, USA to a degree."

Sulka, who won precincts both inside and outside Old Town by wide margins Tuesday, questioned whether the divide is really an issue.

"People use that as an election issue, but I don't really see it," she said Friday.

Sulka noted that the town has provided the areas outside of Old Town with a host of infrastructure improvements such as buried power lines and sewer systems.

"I don't think we have ignored (the area outside Old Town) at all," she said.

Wood noted that as the top-vote getter Tuesday, he received strong support townwide, not just in the historic district.

He said if elected he would strive to represent the entire town, but added called Old Town "... the glue that binds us all together."

"We need to finish the job we started years ago in the historic district" in terms of improving streetscapes and projects of that sort, he said.

The council faces some challenges implementing policy in the newer parts of Bluffton because the town's Unified Development Ordinance only applies to the area around the historic core. Many of the newer gated community outside Old Town are governed by development agreements.

"The town is somewhat limited in what it can do," Wood said.

But there are initiatives -- building new parks, adding recreational amenities and increasing public access to the May River -- that the council can push for outside of Old Town, Wood said.

He also said he would work to bolster the economy in areas like Buckwalter Place, where an ambitious plan to build a technology park died on the vine earlier this year.

"That mission has changed, no doubt," he said. "But we have to continue to work in that area."

Lutz said if town leadership included more representation from outside of the historic core, projects like the Buckwalter Place tech-hub would be more likely to succeed.

And despite past failures, he still believes the town could turn the area around Buckwalter Parkway into an economic engine, perhaps with the construction of a convention center or high-end hotel.

Lutz said, "The three (runoff candidates) all want the best for the town, I know that in my heart. But looking at the (current council) and the guys who are running with me, there is not much representation outside of Old Town."

But in order to provide that representation, Lutz will have to win a seat on the council.

To do that, he will need to make inroads with voters the Old Town community.

And he admits that will be a challenge.

"I just don't have a base in Old Town," he said.

He won less than two percent of the vote in the precinct that encompasses much of the historic district.

Bluffton municipal precincts

Huffman won nearly 30 percent. Wood won nearly 35 percent.

The runoff is Nov. 17.

Any registered voter within town limits can vote, regardless of whether he or she voted in the general election.

To find out if you are eligible to vote in the runoff, visit the town's website at www.townofbluffton.sc.gov and click the link that says "Do I live in the town of Bluffton?"

More election results visualized

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

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