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LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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Urban planning ‘Rock Star’ brings tidings of good will to city retreat

BEAUFORT – Victor Dover, aka “the rock star of urban planning” as Mayor Stephen Murray called him last week, spent some time in the Lowcountry and left at least some of his audience in a kumbaya frame of mind.

Dover, whose Florida-based firm of Dover, Kohn & Partners, has done considerable work in the area, including helping to draft plans for the city/county’s $30 million Boundary Street Redevelopment Plan. He worked with private developers of Habersham and Newpoint to carve residential communities out of those once isolated woodlands and fields.

The nationally known talent was in town to confer with the Beaufort City Council during its two day retreat as the elected officials reviewed their development codes and figure out what to do next.

The seven-hour session, which can be viewed on the city’s Facebook if you REALLY want to find out what was said, left sometime-critics like representatives of the Coastal Conservation League, the Historic Beaufort Foundation, the Sea Island Corridor Coalition saying they felt “encouraged,” … “energized” by the discussions. Even retired 303 Associates CEO Dick Stewart, who has had his issues with the city and interpretations of its regulations, sat in on the discussion and offered his two cents.

Whether Dover’s comments about slowing traffic, protecting trees and open vistas, creating housing for the “middle” (which has come to mean police officers, nurses and school teachers) will carry during this development frenzy the community is facing, that’s to be seen.

City Manager Bill Prokop has to hire a new planning director to oversee the operations. That person will be charged with balancing a master plan for development while allowing growth. All while City Council members want to “work with everybody and just get along,” as the Mayor summer it up.

But Dover stated the obvious when he warned it wasn’t going to be easy, … that Santa Claus nor the Easter Bunny were going to bring the answers.

He stressed groups like the City Council and review boards had to be tough and learn to say “no” when a project didn’t fit the master plans or development codes. He must have viewed some of the city’s review boards where members sometimes apologize to developer applicants or homeowners for “taking so long” to take action on a project.

Dover had lots of advice for the elected officials, their paid staff and the 74 or so folks who turned out last Monday night for his presentation at the USCB Center for the Performing Arts.

He called parking issues a “narcotic. You never manage to get enough.” He stressed that it takes “eternal vigilance” to protect a beautiful place like the Lowcountry.

But one of the most interesting had to be his final remarks at the Monday night session: let’s all work together and love each other.

Amen.

Want to talk about progress? Don’t talk about short-term rentals

BLUFFTON – In case you missed the story last month, a group of Palmetto Bluff homeowners are suing the luxury resort’s new owners because of, among other things, short-term rentals.

In a lengthy court document detailing various concerns, these Beaufort County residents south of the Broad River are upset that the new resort owners, the lawsuit claims, have a strategy to restrict short-term rentals which they (the new owners) believe hurt the occupancy of their 5-star hotel business within the 20,000 acre confines.

The lawsuit’s complaints, that short-term rentals are being discouraged, might be welcome news to some folks on this side of the Broad River. According to some folks, the increasing number of short-term rentals is part of the reason for the shortage of affordable housing, that property owners are choosing to rent their homes out for the short-term rather than to long-term renters.

The complaint has caught the ear of short-timer Beaufort City Councilman Phil Cromer, who says he’s not going to seek re-election after eight years. But he also says he’s going to push for the council to tighten up its regulations, at least requiring property owners to live on site of their rentals.

That requirement would at least prevent those with the cash to buy multiple houses and rent them out for short-term income, is Cromer’s thinking.

The city’s regulations, which have been in place for more than five years, cap the number of short-term rentals to 6 percent of homes within specified neighborhoods.

But when Cromer brought up the issue at last week’s City Council retreat, as part of the discussion on what to do about affordable housing, Mayor Stephen Murray was quick to nix the conversation. According to Murray, the city’s codes department records approximately 100 short-term rentals and while some neighborhoods – like Pigeon Point – may be close to its cap, that’s not the case city-wide.

Murray and Councilman Mike McFee, who were on council during the short-term debates, agree it’s an issue that’s “a hornets’ nest that sucks the energy right out of the room.”

We’ve got much bigger fish to fry. That’s what the Mayor said.


State legislators still in Columbia doing their thing

And speaking of short-term … or bigger fish to fry, the state General Assembly is heading down the finish line with a $12 billion state budget to be resolved.

The budget, which may or may not include rebates for property owners, isn’t the only issue left hanging.

One budget amendment – heaven knows how many have been tacked on in recent weeks – proposes a limitation of state funding for public libraries that don’t agree to limit “materials of prurient interest to children under the age of 13.”

As of this writing, the state’s Compassionate Care Act, aka the medical marijuana bill made famous by Sen. Tom Davis, made it through a House subcommittee making it possible, just possible the full House may deal with the issue before May 12.

Our state leaders also have to agree on how to divide the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, a move mental health advocates warning could have dire consequences for those who need help.

The session will finish and Gov. Henry McMaster will get to use his official pen converting the bills into law.

And then, they’ll go home to face the voters.

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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