LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

in Contributors/Lolita Huckaby/News by

Talking about having your hands tied…

BEAUFORT – Some members of the city’s Historic Review Board seemed to believe their proverbial hands were tied last week when, after an hour of debate, the majority gave final approval to developer Dick Stewart’s plans for a parking garage and four-story hotel in the downtown historic district. 

The garage at 918 Craven Street, which has been in the planning stages since 2016, and the hotel on the corner of Port Republic and Scott streets, first blessed by the city in 2017, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by opponents of the projects. 

Opponents, being downtown property owner Graham Trask, contend the city planning staff used the wrong development codes to approve the projects, which they also contend do not meet National Historic Landmark District standards. 

The two projects were initially on the May agenda of the HRB but were pulled because of the lawsuit. But there they were again on the June agenda, the last meeting for three of the four board members. 

Of the three – Chairman John Dickerson and architect Bill Allison – repeatedly stated during last week’s meeting, at the counseling of City Attorney Bill Harvey, they could not consider the issues of the lawsuit in giving final approval to the contentious projects. 

The third board member – Katherine Pringle, who cast the only vote against approval – will be leaving HRB because the City Council, the night before, on a 4-1 vote, opted not to reappoint her. 

That leaves realtor Stacy Applegate, who joined the HRB last September, as the “veteran” member. She’ll be joined in July by Maxine Lutz, former director of Historic Beaufort Foundation; building contractor specializing in historic buildings and former City Councilman Mike Sutton; Jeremiah Smith, architect with Allison Ramsey Architects; and Michelle Prentice, an interior designer whose husband Josh Gibson serves as chairman of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. 

Councilman Phil Cromer cast the only “no” vote against the nominations, stating he did not think the “best candidates” were being selected. 

Despite all the political maneuvering, it’s unlikely we’ll see any groundbreaking anytime soon on the four-story parking garage, which will overlook the adjoining Tabernacle Baptist Church and Robert Smalls monument, or the one-time three-story hotel, which recently had a fourth-story bar added to the top.

Or the three-story Charles Street apartments – the Cannon Building – which the HRB has also approved. It is also a subject of the lawsuit filed against the city and Stewart.

Last week’s HRB meeting brought out a lively crowd of observers including former Beaufort County Councilwoman Beth Grace and former state Rep. Catherine Ceips Scarborough, who spoke against the two projects.

Bottom line, in their opinions, the projects were just too big for the downtown area.

On top of all this, the National Park Service has decided to take a look at what’s happening in Beaufort with its National Historic Landmark designation which the county seat has had since 1973.

Those charged with making official decisions on what’s happening in Beaufort may feel their hands are tied, but it’s certainly becoming a tangled knot.

County Council almost puts move on BMH

BEAUFORT – Stressing they don’t want to be in the hospital business, County Council members this week almost gave initial approval to an ordinance change to take over the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Board of Regents.

The hospital’s current nine board members are appointed by the Council but are nominated by the existing board. The new proposal would increase the board to 11, one from each of the council districts.

The proposal comes after BMH filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the council when the county entity threatened to reinstate a board member who resigned after her public comments against mask usage drew the ire of her colleagues.

County Council said the current ordinance establishing the relationship with BMH was more than 40 years old. Members were also lavish in their praise for the hospital and its work during the recent COVID epidemic.

BMH CEO and President Russell Baxley and a medical team voiced their concern about the proposal, as did former Mayor Billy Keyserling whose father helped establish the hospital. BMH Chairman of the Board David House said he was “amenable” to withdrawing the lawsuit.

Both sides they wanted to sit down and discuss.

Oh no, it’s not sexist …

BEAUFORT – Beaufort County has its new administrator and now we know his salary.

Eric Greenway, the county’s former planning director, was promoted from within last month after serving as interim since November.

This week, the council agreed on his salary – $210,000 compared to the $190,000 which former administrator Ashley Jacobs made.

Supporters said across the state, the salaries for county administrators have increased in the past two years.

At least one councilman who voted against the proposal said it was going to be viewed as sexist, an issue that was implied when Jacobs, the county’s first female administrator, was forced out.

Speaking of missing women …

PORT ROYAL – The town’s welcoming waif, Zephyr, is gone from her perch overlooking the Ribaut Road-Paris Avenue intersection.

The metal sculpture, which welcomed those coming into the village, was removed recently by town officials who opted for a more appropriate banner featuring the seven flags that once flew over the town during its history.

Town Manager Van Willis, who gave the sculpture its name, said Zephyr, who originally stood in front of what was The Shed at the south end of Paris Avenue, will be stored carefully until a decision is made to display her elsewhere.

Bye, bye, Waste Pro

BEAUFORT – For those in the municipality with complaints about garbage collection, now we know the rest of the story.

After picking up our residential, commercial garbage and recycling for the past 12 years, Waste Pro was dumped last week by the City Council, which agreed last week to a five-year contract with Capital Waste Services.

Council didn’t share the financial details of the agreement but a city press release says we’ll get new garbage collection cans AND with a new computer software program, they’ll provide responses to complaints within 30 minutes.

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.