LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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By Lolita Huckaby

Can we talk some more about growth – good and bad?

BEAUFORT – It was interesting that Island News Editor Mike McCombs had a front-page story last week about the missing historic marker from the corner of Bay and Scott streets.

There seems to be even greater public interest in the potential missing history of much of downtown Beaufort, indeed, the city’s character.

At this point in history, the “mystery” is centered on Port Republic Street where 303 Associates and Dick Stewart have plans to covert much of the two block area into two major new buildings with 24 apartments, more than 80 additional rooms, a parking garage and expansion of the existing Beaufort Inn.

Suffice to say, much has been said about the proposed projects, largely on social media. But people are talking and there’s no consensus … the people are divided.

What will such building projects, if constructed, mean to the small, quaint downtown district. There’s the initial construction phase to think about and then the addition of people … and their cars.

For many, the proposals mean progress and that means $$$ for restaurants and retail shops now struggling to overcome the financial setback of COVID.

As is often the case, action on these major projects is pretty much “out of the barn.” City approvals have been given and precedents have been set.

It is true that plans for the latest controversy, the corner of Charles and Port Republic streets, are in something of a holding pattern since the Historic Review Board, after a feisty meeting on March 10, agreed to the demolition of the old Edwards building, but only if final plans for the three-story apartment building proposed for the block are approved.

The issue of parking – always a hot topic in town – is to be satisfied by a proposed four-tier parking garage on Craven Street, also a 303 Associates project. Preliminary plans for the structure were approved by the city, aka the Historic Review Board, in 2017 and have received two extensions by the staff since then but no final approval.

To date, no ground has been broken for the garage although a nice, predominately vacant parking lot sits where Nippy’s Grill use to serve lunch and, before that, Beaufort’s Alvin Ord’s was born. Talk about history!

It’s a fact the City Council is now considering changes to the demolition ordinance, but only after three downtown buildings, including the former business home of one of the town’s early black merchants, have been bulldozed for the Port Republic projects. The ordinance will put some sort of a time limit on the demolition permits which now run indefinitely.

And the Council, after a controversy last year with the Historic Beaufort Foundation over appointments to the five-member Historic Review Board, agreed it was probably time for an update of the 1979 Beaufort Preservation Manual. Also referred to as the Milner Report, the document is suppose to serve as a guide for building in the city’s historic district.

The update is slated for completion by the early fall, obviously too late to impact the 303 Associates projects on the review agendas now. But hopefully, not too late for other changes sure to come.

Still waiting for the BiLo change

BEAUFORT – Speaking of 303 Associates and change, no official word yet on the future of the Boundary Street Bi-Lo, scheduled to close its doors on April 4.

Located in the Beaufort Town Center Shopping Plaza, aka the Jean Ribaut Square, which is owned by Dick Stewart, the Bi-Lo was one of the few in the state NOT purchased by Food Lion. The Salisbury, N.C., grocery company purchased most of the South and North Carolina BiLos including the one in Shell Point. But not the Boundary Street location.

Without the grocery, much of the downtown area, including Pigeon Point and the Northwest Quadrant, becomes something of a “food desert” with the nearest grocery the Piggly Wiggly three miles away on Ribaut Road or across the Woods Bridge to grocery store mecca.

Oh yes, the “new” Publix is coming to the Plaza on S.C. 170, but anyone who’s ridden by there to check on progress knows not to count on shopping those aisles any time soon.

Rumor is that Food Lion may be waiting in the wings with plans to come to the rescue of those poor grocery shoppers not lucky enough to have cars. But the company’s public relations people aren’t saying so. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Update on Dominion tree cutting

BEAUFORT – You know there had to be one.

City staff reports the majority of the public tree massacre, aka the routine maintenance tree cutting by Dominion Energy, is complete.

What’s done is done. Ready for hurricane season.

There IS some more “fine-tuning” to be done … on the palmettos. The contract cutters are suppose to contact property owners before removal begins.

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