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LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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Stewart challenges Lutz’s Historic Review Board membership; she’s not backing down 

BEAUFORT – Beaufort City Council is facing pressure to remove or recuse not just one outspoken female from its appointed boards/ commissions, but two. 

Maxine Lutz, one of the five members of the Historic District Review Board (HDRB), is being challenged by developer Dick Stewart of 303 Associates who contends she, as a former director of Historic Beaufort Foundation (HBF), is prejudiced against his projects. 

In an Aug. 10 letter to the City Council, Stewart contends Lutz’s critical opinions about this downtown developments, particularly the proposed parking lot and new hotel on the corner of Scotts and Port Republic streets, are well-known thanks to an op-ed piece she wrote back in March, prior to being appointed to the HDRB. 

Stewart also claims Lutz has a conflict of interest, as a representative of HBF on the review board, because the non-profit foundation joined an appeal filed by private landowner Graham Trask against the city’s approval of the parking garage and hotel. 

Lutz disagrees with Stewart’s challenge and has a ruling from the state Ethics Commission to back her. 

The opinion, issued Aug. 24, states since Lutz does not financially benefit by actions of the Foundation, she is not in conflict with ethics laws and does not have to recuse herself. 

The Charles Street apartments, known as the Cannon Building, were scheduled to come back to the HDRB for final approval this week but the project was withdrawn from the agenda. 

The City Council also has the future of one of its two members on the city’s Election Commission on its plate. 

Helen Pappas Spalding was one of the organizers of the recent “Audit the S.C. 2020 Vote” rally held at the Olde Beaufort Golf Club, and since “non-partisan” is one of the requirements for election commissioners, her appointment is now being challenged. 

On the ballot 

PORT ROYAL – Speaking of elections, the town of Port Royal has one coming up in November and four candidates have filed for two council seats. 

Incumbents Mary Beth Heyward and Daryl Owens met Friday’s deadline as did newcomers John Hazel and Edwin Gugino. 

Heyward, who recently retired from Lowcountry Medical, has been on the council since 1992. Owens, who works with the Jasper County school district, is seeking his second full term. 

Hazel is owner of Devil Dog Headquarters, a retail operation specializing in military memorabilia and chairman of the town’s parks and trees commission. Gugino is a resident of Shadow Moss neighborhood. 

In 2017, Heyward and Owens ran unopposed in the city-wide, non-partisan elections. 

Taking a look around … 

CHARLESTON – Sometimes, it can be enlightening to look at how other communities are dealing with similar issues, like flooding. 

Beaufort and Port Royal recently completed the Mossy Oaks drainage project, a four-year $8 million project designed to improve existing flooding problems. The county-wide stormwater management program includes more protection projects, dependent on available money. 

But take a look over at Charleston where residents of the Peninsula are working with officials on a multi-billion dollar plan to build a wall, or buffer around the low-lying area to prevent further sea encroachment. 

The argument for the dikes won even more supporters recently when similar systems installed around parts of New Orleans worked as designed and appeared to lessen the damage from Hurricane Ida. 

Beaufort County leaders, on the other hand, can’t agree to the establishment of a Coastal Resilience Overlay Zone, which creates a “buyer beware” clause for potential land buys in areas lower than 10 feet in elevation. The biggest opponents of the amendment – those in the real estate market – cite fear of “unintended consequences.” 

Good thing they’re not planning a wall. 

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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