Editorials

When ‘planning’ is nothing but reacting

The intersection with Lady’s Island Drive and Sams Point Road will be considered among possible improvements to Sea Island Parkway during an upcoming traffic study. Residents have expressed concern about more cars on the road when developments like Walmart are completed.
The intersection with Lady’s Island Drive and Sams Point Road will be considered among possible improvements to Sea Island Parkway during an upcoming traffic study. Residents have expressed concern about more cars on the road when developments like Walmart are completed. sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com

The dust-up over funding for a new traffic study on Lady’s Island is a sad story.

It’s not so much that the Beaufort County Council and the city of Beaufort had a “turf war” on who pays what for the $88,000 study. That’s not a lot of money, and both sides had good arguments.

What is sad is the larger picture.

The study is a reaction to a traffic situation that is already out of hand.

Reacting is not planning. Yet what the citizens are clamoring for is better planning. Citizens want planning to protect a way of life, a quality of life and a special place.

But when large tracts are clear-cut to make way for a neighborhood, and a new grocery store is in the works, and a Walmart Supercenter is under construction and the major intersection near all this is already overburdened — what takes place after that is not called planning. It’s called cleaning up a mess — or trying to clean up a mess when we all know it’s not going to happen.

One part of the problem is that we do not listen to Mother Nature. When it takes tens of thousands of dump truck loads of dirt to raise the elevation a staggering seven feet on a tract of land large enough for a Walmart Supercenter and its parking lot, Mother Nature is screaming that this is not a good place to build. But we did it anyway and then quibble over the piddling impact fees of some $200,000. And then begin a “comprehensive study” that will be the first step toward proposing tentative “solutions” that are not funded but have probably been talked about in previous studies.

Mother Nature also says that, if a developer must clear-cut a large tract of land to make enough profit on yet another neighborhood full of cars, this is not a good place for that developer to develop. And if the government would stick to the wishes of the people and prevent the clear-cutting, perhaps the developers will target different tracts in a different county.

Another part of a the problem is that local governments have doled out too many massive development agreements and signed off on too many PUD (planned unit development) contracts and granted them shelf lives that are too long for the good of the community. We are now feeling the brunt of bad “planning” decisions made more than two decades ago under totally different circumstances than the community faces today.

And in the end, the solution is going to be to pave more lanes, or perhaps build a flyover, or a bridge to Bellamy Curve or to Gray’s Hill. Nobody will say anything about limiting developments that are large cul-de-sacs with no interconnected streets, or adding public transportation. Build more lanes. That’s what we do. That’s what Atlanta does. But we were supposed to be the anti-Atlanta.

The Town of Hilton Head Island hung its growth control measures on traffic impact. Developers had to pay for impacts or make road improvements. But to use this control, the town had to have a remedy in the works. This encouraged the secondary roads system, the Cross Island Parkway, the computerized traffic lights and the widened entry roads at intersections with the main thoroughfare.

So it is too simplistic to say development can simply be stopped. But we should be farther along in this county. We should know that if A, B and C are permitted, then D will happen. To have no plan for D is sad.

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