Flexibility is needed in redevelopment rules

Mayor Billy Keyserling made a good point last Tuesday when he urged Beaufort City Council not to depart from Boundary Street Redevelopment District zoning rules adopted in 2007.

After all, those rules were put in place in part to provide a predictable formula for builders and architects to follow, and to make the buildings they create or modify complementary in appearance.

But Beaufort city Councilman Mike Sutton, who makes his living as a building contractor, offered an equally valid perspective.

He said a developer struggling to comply with zoning rules approached him with concerns. Sutton did not mention the developer by name, but presumably, he was referring to 303 Associates that has submitted applications for construction projects on the 1900 block of Boundary Street, where a Starbucks coffee shop might open.

That block is within the district, where form-based code is in force and which is bounded by Ribaut Road to the east and Robert Smalls Parkway to the west. The plan aims to create a mixed-use district marked by economic vitality and safer traffic flow.

Sutton said the developer is struggling to incorporate a colonnade and to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements while still staying within zoning strictures. He also alluded to the district's landscaping requirements.

Sutton argued for flexibility in implementing the Boundary Street plan, and we think he offers the stronger point.

By no means should council, zoning boards or staff entertain wild digressions from the redevelopment district rules, but neither should they be pedantic in pursuit of conformity or uniformity.

After all, the ultimate aim of the plan was redevelopment of an area in need of revitalization. If strict adherence to the plan thwarts this aim, the plan is of little use.

Although enforcement of zoning rules helps ensure equal, predictable treatment for developers, as Keyserling notes, informed human judgment belongs in the equation, too.

Zoning variances are not always a special privilege or a betrayal of community vision. They are appropriate whenever it becomes clear the rules stifle the intended effect.

Sutton is right in principle. It is now the city's job to determine if, in this particular case, the rules are as nettlesome as the councilman describes, as well.