Annexation to increase development density along the May River in Bluffton is a bad idea.
Bluffton Town Council has given initial approval to an annexation that would chip away at one of the strongest efforts in the Lowcountry to protect a sensitive waterway and reduce suburban sprawl.
Approval would encourage further "zoning shopping" by landowners to get out from under restrictions that were enacted by Beaufort County at the behest of the people.
And it would splinter the planning efforts among local jurisdictions at a time unity of purpose is desperately needed. Local governments must work together on a regional approach to planning. We need a watershed-wide approach, not planning that pits one set of goals against another.
At stake in Bluffton's annexation request is what happens to the May River Community Preservation District. It is disheartening to see Bluffton Town Council willing to alter five years of work by a broad cross-section of citizens to get this district enacted in 2010.
Its goals include:
Low-density development and setbacks from rivers, creeks, marshes and roadways are the surest way to reach those goals. For that reason, and after years of study with extensive public input, the May River Community Preservation District was enacted. Rules within the district are indeed very demanding, but they were put in place to achieve goals the Bluffton Town Council should share.
It is ironic that the town of Bluffton would relax these county regulations through annexation. When Bluffton started its expansion through annexation, it did so claiming it could protect the river and the Bluffton way of life better than Beaufort County could.
Now the county has listened to the people and put something in place that Bluffton seems willing to undo. Will the real Bluffton please stand up?
The proposed annexation of a 19-acre tract along JC's Cove near the Bluffton Cemetery would not result in high-rises or supermarkets. The proposal would allow four single-family homes on a 13-acre lot now restricted to two single-family homes, or perhaps only one due to the setback requirements. It also would allow commercial use on a lot on May River Road. The landowner sees the change as allowing reasonable use of the land.
But community preservation districts also represent reasonable approaches to land use as established in a most democratic way. They should not be weakened or circumvented.