By Tony Kukulich
The City of Beaufort grew by slightly more than 41.5 acres Tuesday night, June 21, when the city council approved the annexation of 26 properties that were, until that point, part of unincorporated county land that existed within the city’s boundaries.
Opposition to the annexation initiative was largely focused on a single parcel located in the Polk Village neighborhood.
“While I certainly have empathy for residents that are going to be affected by changes to their neighborhood, I argue that the decisions we’re making around annexations, around making sure that the urban boundaries stay within municipal limits and not sprawling out across the region, long term is good governance and is good, responsible land use,” said Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray in an interview after the conclusion of the council meeting. “If we don’t have density and we don’t figure out how to fit people in the existing urban areas, we just sprawl out.”
Several Polk Village residents addressed the council in a last-ditch effort to have a parcel in that neighborhood excluded from the annexation. While their effort ultimately proved unsuccessful, they did win a delay on the zoning designation that will be applied to one particular parcel located at 1502 Palmetto Drive.
“It’s my understanding that if it’s annexed, that (there’s) a possibility that it could be subdivided and would include commercial (zoning) within our neighborhood on that side of Polk Street,” said Melinda Hagins during the first reading of the annexation motion on June 14.
Hagins added concerns about parking and traffic if a business was added to the property. She also noted that there is a single-family home on the parcel, and that property is currently listed for sale. Under county zoning, the lot cannot be subdivided, but city zoning could possibly allow that.
“I understand (that) you want to see what the property owner wants to do, I don’t really think that’s of great value because it holds no legal standing,” Murray said in response to Roxanne Pierce after she raised concerns similar to those mentioned by Hagins. “What holds legal standing and what protects you and your neighbors is the Beaufort code.”
County and city zoning ordinances differ and newly annexed properties must be zoned according to the city’s ordinances. When city officials reviewed their zoning recommendations with the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC), the commission approved 25 of the 26 recommendations during a May 16 meeting. They tabled a decision on the Polk Village parcel. The MPC was, as of this writing, scheduled to reconsider the zoning of that parcel during its June 22 meeting.
Addressing the council during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s council meeting, Hagins requested that the city delay its zoning decision for 1502 Palmetto Dr. until the MPC makes a zoning recommendation.
When the council put forth a motion to adopt the recommended zoning for all 26 parcels, Councilmember Phil Cromer amended the motion to defer the zoning designation for the Polk Village parcel. That motion with Cromer’s amendment passed by a 5-0 vote. Deputy City Manager Reece Bertholf said that the city will take up the issue of Polk Village parcel zoning in a future meeting.
Speaking during public comments, Charles Newton of the Sea Island Corridor Coalition criticized the council for a lack of transparency related to the annexation process. He said that, based on the calls the coalition received about annexation, the council’s efforts weren’t working well.
“What is needed is not more, but more effective communication,” Newton said. “Scattered agenda postings or newspaper lists of annexations or public hearings may meet the letter of the law, but they don’t ensure that taxpayers or residents or voters understand what’s going on and can therefore participate substantively in the process. Communication is not getting out, it’s getting through.”
After another public speaker, Michael Dixon, referenced an op-ed penned by Newton in which Newton opined that the city annexation process lacked transparency, Murray responded saying he disagreed with many of the things that Newton said.
“I think that we can do a better job,” Murray said. “But I will argue that, in terms of annexation, physically posting on the property, mailing postcards, posting in the local newspapers, live streaming our meetings, having four or five public stops for the public to come in and be heard, I mean, give us some credit. We’re working really hard to meet people where they are.”
Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.