Does it make sense to dispose of surplus city land and purchase alternative parcels that better serve the public?

By Mayor Billy Keyserling

“Why in the world would the City Council consider selling surplus property and possibly public parks?”

Since our city’s founding fathers started laying out street grids in downtown Beaufort about 300 years ago, the importance of open space and organized parks for passive and active recreation has been a critical factor in making Beaufort special.

As the years passed and new opportunities arose, parks — not the least of which are the celebrated Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park and Pigeon Point Park — were created. (Many may not know that Pigeon Point Park was once a post war apartment complex, that later housed small businesses and was the actual birthplace for the YMCA of Beaufort. Or that a mjoar portion of the the waterfront park was builto over the water.)

Those efforts continue today and changes will be made into the future as neighborhoods change, as lifestyles change and as the city grows. What made sense yesterday might not make sense tomorrow. Then again it might. But I believe we owe it to the residents to assess needs and make changes if necessary.

Currently the city owns and maintains 28 parks and I would venture to say many of you might not be able to find half of them and even fewer could name them. A review of them leads us to believe some do not make the same sense today as they may have when they were created.

Furthermore, city properties,  previously used by the public works and police departments, are no longer used or needed into the future.  Should we hold and maintain them or make them availableto the private sector for constructive use while putting them on the tax rolls.

The city’s comprehensive plan and cicic master plans, including the many design charrette’s held over the past year, have been used to gather input about the need for, the possibility of, and the potential for parks, greenways and open space into the City’s future.

This is an ongoing effort to build a better Beaufort, to make it more useful and usable to its residents and visitors.

For example, the sale of the Port Royal Railroad right of way presented greenway opportunities to create a vision and turn it into the reality of a rail trail for public use and recreation.

At the same time, shouldn’t we ask why the city would continue to own and maintain Wilson Park on Ribaut Road which is used only rarely as traffic whizzes by and few even realize it is a park. Could the money from the sale of this valuable asset be used to improve Mossy Oaks Park which is in the center of the City’s largest neighborhood? Or to improve a small pocket park where children play or to create a new park in areas where the city is growing?

Funds from the sale of surplus properties will not go into the General Fund to pay for the City’s operating costs. Rather they will go into the Open Land Fund which is used for just that … creating parks, partnering with the county and the Beaufort County Open Land Trust to protect scenic vistas and ensuring that we capture and protect our natural beauty while making it user friendly for those who live here and those who visit us.

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