By Lisa Allen
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Beaufort City annexed 67 parcels on Lady’s Island last week.
The City Council voted to absorb Secession Golf Club and its residential cottages. As allowed under state law, the city also took the opportunity to add parcels along Sea Island Parkway to smooth out city boundaries, including Butler Marine, the Fillin’ Station and Zippy Lube. They were in the county while Grayco, Walgreens and Publix were in the city.
Annexation is a central part of the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan that dates back nearly 10 years.
The regional plan, in effect, is a long-term divvying up of areas of growth in Northern Beaufort County.
The county, the city and the towns of Port Royal and Yemassee decided the best course of action was to map out areas where growth would be encouraged in order to protect rural and environmentally sensitive areas where they didn’t want growth.
The growth areas would eventually become part of the municipalities while more rural uses would remain under county jurisdiction. The plan also had to work around the Air Installations Compatible Use Zones (AICUZ) surrounding Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Ever since the plan was adopted in August 2007, whenever a property owner or developer in a growth area wants to “upzone,” meaning change a zoning up the scale away from a rural designation, they are encouraged to consider annexation, said Libby Anderson, planning director for the city of Beaufort.
“If you’re in the growth area and you want to upzone, the county says you should annex to Port Royal or Beaufort City. An urbanized use should be in a municipality because the county doesn’t provide urban services,” Anderson said.
Urban services include trash collection and a denser police and fire department presence.
Under the regional plan, all of Lady’s Island to Chowan Creek and all of the islands out to Cat Island could eventually become part of the city of Beaufort.
Port Royal’s limits could extend out to S.C. 170 to the Broad River Bridge.
The recession stalled much annexation, but since 2014, traffic and development has been on a tear in Northern Beaufort County, particularly on Lady’s Island.
There are approved plans for hundreds of more homes on the island, in addition to the 113 homes planned at Oyster Bluff and 55 homes in Tidewater Creek off of Little Capers.
To serve those residents, commercial buildings are going up, including a Waffle House and car wash on Sams Point and the controversial Walmart near the Lady’s Island Airport.
Already the intersection of Lady’s Island Drive and Sea Island Parkway fails to meet the agreed-upon minimum traffic flow during rush hours, Anderson said. Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said at a traffic study public meeting recently that the city required traffic studies from Publix, Harris Teeter and Walmart, but no one looked at them together.
The city commissioned a traffic study that proposes alternate routes and more turn lanes, but no firm plan has been approved, nor a source of funding identified.
Keeping the regional plan on task for the past 10 years has been the job of the Regional Plan Implementation Committee, which meets bimonthly. For example, it had to adjust the plan after noise zones in the AICUZ were expanded by 4,000 acres in 2014 to accommodate the F-35s, thereby shrinking even further land that can be developed.
The implementation committee recognizes that Lady’s Island is growing too much. It discussed at its latest meeting in January that the regional plan’s growth boundaries might be too broad, particularly on Lady’s Island. After a lengthy discussion, they voted only to encourage the county, city and Port Royal to revisit them. They acknowledged that changing them would require the county, city and Port Royal to all agree.
The building boom has drawn concern from residents, particularly the watchdog group Sea Island Corridor Coalition. The coalition formed after 40 acres were clear-cut for Oyster Bluff.
Coalition leader Chuck Newton of Dataw Island said the city and county have to make it easier for residents to learn of pending development before it proceeds too far through approvals.
“People don’t understand how much power planning staff has. A lot of these developments don’t require approval from the public bodies,” Newton said. “I would love the city to scan and post online any development seeking city approval as soon as it’s filed. Right now, it’s up to citizens to go ask if anything has been filed.”
Newton said the city and county don’t say “no” often enough. He also said Lady’s Island doesn’t have much political clout, with only two votes on the Beaufort County Council and none on the Beaufort City Council.
“None of our representatives live on Lady’s Island. They don’t see what we see on a daily basis.”
• Designing Lady’s Island, 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, Lady’s Island Middle School
• Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan Implementation Committee, 9:30 a.m., Friday, March 24, Executive Conference Room, Beaufort County Administration Building, 100 Ribaut Road