Common sense and the form based code

in Voices by

By Jim Hicks, Former
Lady’s Island Planning Commission Representative

The long awaited Beaufort County form based code has arrived and is available for public review and comment on the county web site. The title of the document is “Community Development Code”.  It is designed to serve as the guide for introduction of a form based type of zoning for the unincorporated portion of Beaufort County.  The City of Beaufort and the Town of Port Royal are in the process of implementing their own version of a “form based” code and for the most part the three codes appear to be in agreement.

The new county “Community Development Code” is lengthy, complex and not an easy read. It has been reviewed by representatives of the local technical community (engineers, architects, transportations planners, land use lawyers) who will have to work with the document as a part of their professional life. It is presently being reviewed by a committee of county council members and planning commission members. The County Planning Department is working with the Lady’s Island Community Preservation Committee to insure there are no surprises when the ordinance is approved by county council. For the general public the entire document is available at the Beaufort County web site and does allow individual comments to be made on line.

One of the objectives of the form based code is to promote sustainable walkable communities. The term “walkable” community has many definitions but is generally understood to be a community in which a resident can easily and safely walk to obtain most of the goods and services needed. In municipalities this concept is logical and easily understood.  In the unincorporated portion of the Beaufort County, with its wide range of land uses, there can be no one size fits all type of approach. Understanding this, Mr. Anthony Criscietello, Beaufort County Planning Director and his team of planners made a decision, early in the process, that transition to the new zoning code for the unincorporated portion of the county should include identifying:

• Areas where high density is appropriate and walkable communities possible and utilize form based zoning in those areas.

• Areas where high density development would be inappropriate and allow the present conventional zoning to remain in effect.

• Community preservation areas, such as Lady’s Island, where portions for the property could benefit from a form based type of zoning and the remainder should remain with its present of zoning.

The effect of this decision on Lady’s Island is that only the commercial portion of the island (Village Center) and some of the adjacent residential areas along Sea Island Parkway will transition to the new code upon its adoption.  Since this commercial corridor is a blended (county and City of Beaufort) governed area of the island it is only logical that a similar zoning be in effect to avoid zoning shopping.  As to the rest of the island, Lady’s Island is being allowed the privilege of setting the pace for any further transitioning to the new type of zoning.

A special “thank you” is extended to the Beaufort County Planning Department for adopting this common sense approach of limiting the use of “form based” zoning to those areas where the benefit is clearly defined.