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Lolita Huckaby

LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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What we’ve got here … is failure to communicate

BEAUFORT – Poor communication. That’s the latest charge thrown between municipal and county leaders who couldn’t agree on a simple little thing like development impact fees.

Actually, it’s a not-so-simple subject as the Beaufort County Council and their municipal counterparts demonstrated in the past two months. The lack of simplicity – plus the lack of communication – is why the majority of County Council voted Monday night to drop school development impact fees which are only in place in the unincorporated areas of southern Beaufort County.

The tug of war between county and municipal leaders is nothing new. Like the tides, the relationship ebbs and flows, some times better than others.

The impasse over development impact fees highlights the current situation with the county, with one council member describing the situation as trying to “strong-arm” the municipalities into agreements.

The municipalities – except for the ever-growing Yemassee – fought back, and as a result, the County Council voted to extend a final decision until June, hoping the municipal leaders can be “brought to the table.” In this case, “brought to the table” means given the detailed information the municipal leaders say they need to make appropriate decisions about the fees.

Again, it’s not simple and the fact that only two citizens showed up for Monday night’s county public hearing to speak on the topics – one in favor, the other opposing – is probably a good indication that the voters don’t really care. They just want to know what it’s gonna cost them.

And to put that simply, if development impact fees for services like new libraries, fire and rescue, even more transportation projects, aren’t charged to newcomers, everyone else, i.e., those who already live here and are paying taxes, is gonna pay for those services.

Even the elected school board members, who you would have thought would have at least made an appearance, stayed home. And those folks are always looking for ways to find more money to build schools.

Remember, the school fees were only being charged for new homes ($9,500) and apartments ($4,500 per unit) in southern Beaufort County. And since town officials in Bluffton, where a lot of the growth is happening, haven’t agreed to the fees yet, nor had the officials of Hilton Head Island, that swayed the County Council to just drop the school impact fees and refund any collected money.

Obviously adding to the County Council’s decision was a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Pulte developers questioning the legality of impact fees paid by some new county homeowners and not others.

Oh, it’s not simple and it’s not over. Wait to see if the lines of communication improve in the next month.

Looking toward next year

BEAUFORT – June 30 marks the end of the fiscal budget year for local governments and Beaufort County Council, when not debating development impact fees, has already started talking about next year’s spending plan.

There’s a lot more details to be worked out before the final vote of approval is given to the FY 2023 spending plan, but county officials have already thrown out a figure of $145 million, an increase from $133 million this year.

These numbers in no way are reflective of what the final numbers will be or what it will cost the taxpayers. It is an election year for seven of the 11 council members, after all.

Big picture? All this building is adding up

BEAUFORT – An interesting phenomenon occurred last week in the city, where a review board held firm on requests for a traffic impact study and the developer withdrew.

Oh, developers of the Grand Point apartment complex – with 336 units in 14 different buildings – will be back with their traffic impact study which, if it goes as most TIA (traffic impact analysis) studies which are paid for by the developers, will predict minimal impact on Burton Hill Road and Salem Point Road.

The Municipal Planning Commission, which kindly… and successfully… suggested the developers come back with the traffic impact plan before expecting approval of their 24 now-wooded acre sketch plan.

The Commissioners also talked with city planning staff about the importance of viewing all these incoming projects “holistically”, i.e., at the big picture and how these different projects are impacting not only the roads but things like stormwater runoff and extensive tree removal.

The city code, which the Beaufort City Council will be taking a look at this week during its annual retreat, may not use the word “holistic” but some residents are, at least, starting to see the big picture.


Looked for a rental house lately? New cost analysis shows … hikes

BEAUFORT – In case you missed it, a recent report in the Washington Post shared some research news that may not surprise some.

According to the report, there was a 31 percent increase in average monthly rents here in Beaufort County, one of the higher increases in the country. Their research showed the average monthly rent is now $1,692.

Anyone who’s actually looked for rental housing lately is probably not surprised. If that doesn’t include you, maybe you’re not surprised but maybe a little … shocked?

County leaders have been talking about the need for “affordable housing” for the past several years. County Administrator Eric Greenway is getting closer with his proposal for a housing trust program to meet some of the needs, but he’s got to get support from the municipalities.


Municipal election filing date

CORRECTION: A premature statement was made earlier this month about this year’s Beaufort non-partisan city council elections. Filing does NOT begin April 1 for the two council seats. The city council establishes the filing date opening which traditionally is late June with a deadline of August 15.

The seats held by Councilmen Phil Cromer and Mike McFee will be open and Cromer has stated he will not be seeking re-election.

Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.

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