Hold onto core values as new replaces old

Development of MidTown Square is an exciting proposition for downtown Beaufort.

It would bring as many as 16 single-family homes and some other types of residences to what has for years been an empty lot covering more than a city block.

It offers in many ways exactly what the city needs, starting with an influx of taxpayers who would live there.

Also, as opposed to most new development, MidTown Square will take advantage of existing public services, such as roads, water and sewer, as well as schools, and fire and police protection. It also would breathe new life into the Northwest Quadrant neighborhood and perhaps encourage other investments and improvements.

The proposal also leverages public and private investment to reach a mutually beneficial result that neither party could achieve without the other. The private development would benefit from about $1.3 million in streetscape improvements the city has planned for the area, using federal grants. And the city could see a return on its investment. Instead of the city making improvements and hoping it will spur development, in this case, there is a close correlation.

A similar opportunity lies before the Town of Hilton Head Island as it works with the private sector to revitalize the Coligny Circle area. The town controls some special tax district funds that could help pay for road and park improvements, thus helping investment from the private sector make sense.

Both cases require the municipalities to be proactive -- to work with property owners and developers to make things happen.

But both cases also require the municipalities to know who they are and not sacrifice local core values.

In Beaufort, that means the city should give the Historic District Review Board and the Design Review Board meaningful seats at the table in deciding what ultimately is constructed. Some of that input is lost in the city's new foray into form-based code as a replacement for traditional zoning regulations.

Beaufort leaders must not forget how important this oversight has been to the city for decades. Even though the regulations and the permit approval and appeals process can be more cumbersome, they have long served a good purpose. Historic preservation is at the heart of Beaufort's economic and cultural fabric.

On Hilton Head, the private sector is clamoring for a less restrictive or even imploded land management ordinance. In many ways, it's understandable and change is needed. But there must be a balance. It doesn't have to be an either-or situation. The community must know what it is and what it values and preserve that. The Coligny Circle area should not turn out looking like Miami or Atlanta.

As Beaufort, Hilton Head and Bluffton define themselves in a new era of development and redevelopment, each community must know itself and be true to that.