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Historic Review Board looks to the future

BEAUFORT – Those folks on the city’s Historic District Review Board, for all their focus on protecting the past, sure spend most of their agenda looking into the future.

Their recent meeting was a good case in point; two major projects, particularly one that can drastically change the landscape of Bay Street, were on the agenda and both got a green light to move forward.

Certainly, the members lead by Chairman John Dickerson would argue it’s not an easy task, especially if you’re called to reject plans from maybe your neighbors or a business client.

But getting a first look at some of those plans has gotta be fun.

A Charleston developer wants to build a three-story, three-unit development at 1107 Bay Street, next to the Anchorage, where the former Dowling-Dukes-Williams law firm was until it was destroyed by fire in 2008. The three-unit project along Bay will be followed by similar developments on the Craven Street side, if the first phase works out.

The waterfront lot overlooking the Beaufort River has been empty since then, something of a “gypsy parking lot” as one called it, with a high price tag. But Hank Hofford of Charleston is working with architect Cooter Ramsey to build some houses there, large houses that, if built, will provide stunning view of the river.

And the HRB members agreed, granting a first step of conceptual approval to move the project along.

The same board, earlier in the meeting gave Dick Stewart and 303 Associates approval to advance plans for another three-story structure adjacent to the historic Beaufort Inn on Port Republic Street. The structure, which was initially approved in 2008 but the approval had lapsed, may eventually rise from where a former shoe repair store stood.

To make the Port Republic project happen, a single-story cement block structure will be demolished. Sounds harmless enough until Historic Beaufort Foundation pointed out the building was one of the few remaining post-World War II stores owned and operated by an African-American businessman.

That’s history … but it makes Beaufort what it is … or was?

Another starfish 

from Chief Clancy

BEAUFORT – One of the many cool stories we heard about the late Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy was an in-house program he started for his officers, the Starfish Award.

Seems Chief Clancy, who died in July after a long battle with cancer, recognized outstanding efforts by his men and women with a pin shaped like a starfish. The story of the starfish, which was repeated at the Chief’s memorial services, is of the young boy, after being questioned why he was throwing stranded starfish back into the sea, one at a time, answered his efforts “made a difference to that one.”

It’s a nice touch to continue that tradition. Chief Clancy’s wife, Lisa, presented a pin to 1st Sgt. Chris Cushman, a veteran of the department, for his kind remarks at the memorial services.

The Ice Cream Man Cometh … illegally

BEAUFORT – Seems the neighborhood ice cream trucks you may, or may not, have seen cruising the city streets this summer might have been … illegal.

City Council was told a couple weeks back the ordinance restricting food trucks operating in the city didn’t include those ice cream trucks. But fear not ice cream lovers, the elected leaders of our municipality are working to rectify the situation.

Just gotta change some words.

Nothing seems simple anymore

BEAUFORT – Another example where something simple gets complicated happened at the City Council meeting a couple weeks ago.

The council received a routine request from the Downtown Merchants Association to ask the state Department of Transportation (which officially owns the streets) to close Bay Street for the November First Friday event.

The council, wishing to support the struggling merchants, saw no problem with the request UNTIL the staff pointed out Gov. Henry McMaster’s orders still restrict gatherings of more than 250 people. So, who’s gonna deal with crowd control?

And what happens in December, when the area’s famous Night on the Town traditionally happens?

If the COVID numbers haven’t dropped and the crowd restrictions stay in place, what then?

The decisions have been faced by event planners for the past six months – the Water Festival, Memorial Day parade, Fourth of July celebrations, weddings, funerals, church services. But as our virus numbers decrease, the call for “back to normal” grows louder.

Since the council also voted to extend the mask ordinance another month, they reluctantly agreed it won’t look good to close streets which would indicate, to some, it’s okay to gather.

Another farewell at the County

BEAUFORT – Top managers leaving the county offices make it seem almost like a revolving door over there but one departure this month is SORELY going to be missed by the public.

Library Director Ray McBride is retiring after five-plus years with the county overseeing the operation of five branches and staff. While the virus quarantine kept the doors of the libraries shut to the public basically since March, McBride’s employees continued to work providing curbside and online service to patrons.

During his term, McBride helped re-institute the popular Bookmobile, with the help of the Friends organizations, which donated dollars for the program. He led a number of library renovation projects and a push to get salary upgrades for his staff.

McBride also convinced the County Council to increase the libraries’ budgets to include new equipment and materials purchases.

The Library board has tapped Amanda Brewer Dickman as interim until McBride’s position can be filled. But he leaves big shoes (figuratively) to fill.

Thanks, Ray, for your service!

Trying to rein in panhandlers

BEAUFORT – Beaufort city officials are looking for ways to roll out the red carpet for visitors while making it tougher to be a panhandler.

The council has given the first of two necessary votes to an ordinance that addresses “aggressive panhandling” and sleeping in public places. At the same time, they’re admitting they’re not sure how it’s going to be enforced.

The ordinance drafted by City Attorney Bill Harvey is a compilation of restrictions used by other towns but basically describes “aggressive panhandling” as: Approaching or speaking to a person, or following a person before, during or after soliciting if that conduct is intended or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm to oneself or to another, damage to or loss of property, or to otherwise be intimidated into giving money or other things of value.

OK … so how are city police going to enforce this ordinance once it’s in place? Is violation a civil or criminal matter?

City officials have been pondering what to do about the half-dozen or so individuals who gather pretty regularly in the park at night, many sleeping there on the stone walls.

The elected council members didn’t go lightly into the discussion, which included acknowledgement of the area homeless population and mental health issues.

Council members and the city also acknowledged the problem of panhandling has increased since public dining in the waterfront park area has been encouraged to help struggling restaurants. 

Interim Police Chief Dale McDorman stressed it wasn’t just in the downtown area; the activities were occurring at scattered ATMs and in shopping centers.

Just another sign of the times.

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