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LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

8 mins read

By Lolita Huckaby

Saved from becoming a food desert! 

Beaufort – It should be well-known by now that the good folks at Food Lion are stepping into the BiLo grocery store on Boundary Street, preventing the downtown residential community from becoming a “food desert.”

A food desert?

In a community like Beaufort, with dozens of restaurants to choose from, at least two candy stores, at least one boutique grocery on West Street? Yes, for the record, “food desert” is a term used to describe primarily an urban area where it is difficult to buy affordable or good quality fresh food.

Again, thanks to Food Lion corporate in North Carolina, the decision was made to open a fourth store in the northern Beaufort County area – Lady’s Island, Laurel Bay Road, Shell Point and now, Boundary Street.

And while we can breathe easy, knowing a food desert was averted, we can also watch to see which breaks ground first – the new “coming soon” Harris Teeter on Lady’s Island or the new “coming soon” Publix at the Plaza shopping center.

303 Associates projects attract lawsuit

BEAUFORT – The “war of words” between 303 Associates’ Dick Stewart and those opposing his Port Republic Street projects has reportedly advanced, moving into the court system.

Based on a report this week in The Beaufort Tribune, an online newspaper owned by businessman George Trask, a lawsuit has been filed in the Court of Common Pleas against 303 Associates, as well as the city of Beaufort.

The lawsuit was reportedly by filed by two limited liability companies owned by Graham Trask who owns property on the corner of Port Republic and West Street, adjacent to a four-story hotel planned by 303 Associates.

The suit contends 303’s plans for the hotel, a Craven Street parking lot and an apartment building on the corner of Port Republic and Charles Street, did not receive special exceptions from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The suit also asks for an injunction against the development company from any further action.

In an attempt to keep the public posted on the various downtown developments, the city staff has added a Downtown Projects page on its website (www.cityofbeaufort.org) which highlights the various projects and where they are in the development approval process.

Affordable housing – what’s that?

BEAUFORT – A most recent report by the state housing authority reiterates something many of us already know – home ownership is getting more expensive and rents … well, they’re not getting any cheaper.

The annual S.C. Housing Needs Assessment report shows the number of home sales below the $300,000 price range dropped significantly last year – in the range of 13 to 33 percent – yet the number of home sales above that price range increased – some 34.5 percent.

Looking closer to home at the county’s rental market, the median gross rent is $1,188, thanks largely to the number of apartment complexes springing up along the highways. Gone are the days of finding a cute little bungalow for less than $1,000 per month; thank you short-term rental phenomenon.

If a new “affordable” house could be built for every minute spent by some government group discussing “affordable housing,” the situation might not be so glum but alas, that’s not the case.

As we pull out of the COVID quarantine and property owners can go back to evicting folks who can’t afford to pay their rent, the much-debated issue is sure to raise its unrelenting head.

Local government leaders who’ve had their annual planning retreats in anticipation of the annual budget discussions, have talked long and hard about economic development and the need to bring better jobs. But without places for the average working Joe or Jane to live, getting new businesses to move here isn’t easy.

County staff has proposed a new employee to work specifically with the homeless population. But then again, they had a position for a person to be in charge of “affordable housing” and that hasn’t worked out either.

The County Council, plus the councils of Beaufort and Port Royal, is in the process of updating comprehensive master plans which deal with such issues as “affordable housing,” but how these talks will play out – beyond more talk – is yet to be seen.

Bringing the music back

PORT ROYAL – On the good news front, the Port Royal Town Council, during its recent retreat, agreed it’s time to return the popular town-sponsored street music program.

The council agreed starting in August would probably be a good idea, giving more citizens time to get vaccinated and closer to “herd immunity.” But they also agreed to support the town’s traditional Fourth of July celebration which was sorely missed in 2020.

The Beaufort City Council last week followed Port Royal’s lead and approved the Water Festival’s plans to bring back the annual celebration in July.

County government change contemplated

BEAUFORT – Speaking of bringing back “good times,” remember the tempest last year of the tax bills, where the county auditor and treasurer weren’t speaking and the tax bills got delayed.

The County Council, in an apparent move to dissolve that friction, is moving forward on a proposal to change the county administration format from county administrator to county manager. The biggest apparent change, based on what’s being discussed, is the auditor and treasurer would become hired staff rather than elected by the people.

The change will be the subject of a referendum – possibly in November – if the Council, at its next meeting gives blessing to the idea.

This proposal is not a new one. In fact, it was on the ballot in 2011 but rejected by the voters. Council considered it again in 2018 but withdrew the question because of concerns about “referendum fatigue.”

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.

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