By Bill Rauch
Lady’s Island was back in the news last week with 67 parcels there annexed into Beaufort and a big planning charrette at the elementary school that was organized by The Sea Island Corridor Coalition.
First, the big meeting.
The city is way behind on reaching out to the residents of Lady’s Island. The meeting was basically the residents taking matters into their own hands. And, yes, of course the Coastal Conservation League sees in the void an opportunity to make some new friends and get in some contributions. Thus the snacks and crayons.
There was no harm done there except having attracted hundreds to their meeting, the organizers have gotten cocky and now think they may be able to go it alone without the city or the county. That’s naive.
To get what they want and for it to stick they’ll need to work with both governments, but especially the city whose responsibility it is under the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan to manage the growth on Lady’s Island.
But the city has to be willing to do its part. And, in all candor, it appears to date it has not been.
Why? Because the city has a problem. It wants the tax revenues from Lady’s Island, but it doesn’t want to incur the cost of delivering the services.
City Council has so underfunded its police department, for example, that the Beaufort PD isn’t able to answer most of the calls from the in-city parcels on Lady’s Island. The Beaufort police count on the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for that.
Same with fire. Lady’s Island-St. Helena is carrying the load, although by intergovernmental agreement they are compensated by the city for doing so.
And, of course, then there’s planning.
It’s past time to get real on Harris Teeter. No reasonable person can actually believe most of the shoppers who will shop at a Harris Teeter in the old Publix location will be pedestrians. The city needs the revenues, the chain wants to be in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood wants the store. It is time to end the stand-off. It’s OK for the parking lot to be on the Sea Island Parkway side like it was with Publix.
As suggested, most of the shoppers on Lady’s Island use automobiles to transport the goods they buy. Consultants can suggest more people should ride bicycles. Good. Maybe they will. It’s clearly healthy, except when you have to cross one of those five-lane roads.
But more and more people want to live on Lady’s Island. That means there are more and more shoppers, and unless things change dramatically, there will thusly be more and more automobiles.
Getting back to the meeting, so where’s the area traffic plan, including the intermodal part? Mayor Billy Keyserling said if he’d thought of it, he could have gotten for the city an integrated traffic plan for the big Publix intersection. But he didn’t. And the city doesn’t have one.
The city’s transportation plan for Lady’s Island is characteristically “What can we get the county and SCDOT to do?”
No wonder the mayor kept his head down and his hands in his pockets at the big meeting.
It’s kind of like the embarrassing boats that slipped their anchors in Hurricane Matthew.
The mayor says he called a meeting of OCRM, DNR and DOT to try to get to the bottom of whose responsibility it is to get those boats off the Lady’s Island causeway to be either sold or scrapped. But, surprise, the state agencies each said cleaning up Beaufort’s waterfront is not their responsibility, nor is the project in any of their respective budgets.
Obviously the mayor thinks the city’s in the same boat: no responsibility, no money. So the junkyard continues.
To be fair and not unduly critical, I applaud the mayor and council for the 67 annexations. “Annexation” used to be a bad word with this group. Maybe with the added revenues from the new parcels the city will feel it has reached the critical mass on Lady’s Island such that it can begin delivering there the urban services that are implicit with the jurisdictional change.
Budget season approaches. Take note Lady’s Islanders. Take note Sea Island Corridor Coalition. It is there — and only there — that the true tale will be told.
Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.