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Lolita Huckaby

Lowcountry Lowdown

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By Lolita Huckaby

It’s not ‘annexation wars’ … but ‘mob rule’?

BEAUFORT – For those who pay attention to such things, there’s often comment about our neighbor to the north – the town of Yemassee – and its continual growth. But the City of Beaufort and Town of Port Royal have been doing their share of annexation this year.

Most recently, the Beaufort City Council drew attention last week when they actually had a split vote, 3-2, opposing annexation of a 4.7-acre waterfront parcel adjoining Clarendon Plantation, which came into the city 16 years ago. Potential buyers of this proposed piece of property on Patterson Road asked to come into the city for fire and police protection, for which they were willing to pay additional taxes.

What they didn’t say… but the neighbors did … was that they wanted to build a deep-water dock longer than the 300-foot limit set by county regulations. That issue was first brought up at the Municipal Planning Commission last month where a dissenting member voted against the request, calling it “zoning shopping.”

“Zoning shopping” came up again during the City Council meeting when neighbors spoke in opposition of the annexation. Their concerns prompted Mayor Stephen Murray to suggest “mob rule,” in an interview with The Beaufort Gazette, was at play instead of “good planning.”

“Mob rule” is an interesting charge to be made by an elected leader in response to residents voicing their concerns. Actually, it’s almost amazing how little public comment is made in response to government actions that are going to affect your wallet, come tax time, or your neighborhood, when the wooded acres around your home are clear-cut for more cookie-cutter developments.

Port Royal annexation could displace mobile homes

PORT ROYAL – Another annexation request of interest is being considered by the Port Royal Town Council. The request, if passed at the December meeting, will allow the potential buyers to demolish Beaufort Mobile Home trailer park on Parris Island Gateway to make way for new apartments.

No evidence of “mob rule” yet on this annexation request. In fact, Town Councilman Kevin Phillips was the only voice to question the wisdom of the proposal after he heard the demolition of the park, with its 50 lots, meant those residents would be looking for homes elsewhere if the annexation is granted.

No “mob rule” there when one lone councilman votes “no” because of concern where the 50 residents are gonna go. But in this age of much local discussion about the need for “affordable” or “workforce” housing, it’s difficult to understand why the elected bodies, represented by their planning administrators aren’t requiring those potential buyers to commit – prior to getting their annexation requests met – to look out for those who can’t afford $1,000 monthly rents.

The same can be said for the county, where Administrator Eric Greenway and his staff are working with Columbia developer Jeffrey Wheeler who is buying two lots on Wilmington and Prince Streets –  the former offices of S.C. DHEC and, before that, the main county administration building and then the sheriff’s office.

The county council voted to accept Wheeler’s $1.1 million offer over other entities, including the Beaufort Housing Authority, but the agreement requires a city approval of a development plan consisting of “significant” affordable or workforce housing units.

For those concerned about the availability of housing, let’s hope the county and city officials will hold firm and come up with a reasonable plan, not just a plan that proves profitable for the developer.

Banned book debate, again, in 2022

BEAUFORT – Banned books.

You bring up the subject, and it brings up all kind of debate about constitutional rights and even flashback images of Germans carrying the ban a bit further into burning books during Hitler’s reign. You can read about it in other parts of the country, but it’s not something you traditionally associate with the laid-back Lowcountry. Until recently.

Thanks to the concerns of some parents, concerned citizens and a nationally organized group, Moms for Liberty, described as a conservative parents rights group, the debate was sparked earlier this fall at a Beaufort County Board of Education meeting where supporters of a ban and those opposed spoke out. 

The complaints about inappropriate books being available in high school and middle school libraries had been brewing since the 2022 fall session began but became more public when concerned citizens on the opposite side realized Beaufort County School District officials had ordered almost 100 books – 97 according to reports – removed until they could be individually reviewed by appointed committees, which will make recommendations back to the superintendent.

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, which also has gotten into the fray, point out these types of challenges are being voiced in at least seven other South Carolina school districts – maybe more by the time you read this.

Some of those voicing concerns about the availability of these questionable books are reportedly part of the group that opposed masking for students and school personnel during the COVID pandemic.

Much has been said already and much has been written about the book bans, probably even more than subjects like school violence, teachers’ salaries or educational equality. Even Lowcountry literary saint Pat Conroy weighted in on the subject – long before his death in 2016.

When his own books, Prince Of Tides and Beach Music were banned by the Charleston, W.Va., school board in 2007, he wrote a letter to the community questioning why citizens groups mobilized to make the work of teachers so much more difficult.

“In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why,” he wrote.

Amen, Pat. You always had a way with words.

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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