By Lolita Huckaby
Juggling past, future no easy assignment
BEAUFORT – Could the timing be any more ironic?
Last week, the community hosted a symposium on the archaeological footprint of the 17th century Scottish settlement Stuarts Town believed now to have been somewhere in The Point neighborhood.
While folks reflected on past residents, some current Point residents cheered to learn a state judge had agreed with the Beaufort Historic Foundation’s argument that their easement on the historic home of Reconstruction hero Robert Smalls prevented tours by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The addition of even more tourists in their historic neighborhood was frustrating to the neighbors who supported the BHF’s position that the once private home didn’t need to be turned into a house museum.
All this while the National Park Service consultants came to town for a “health checkup” on the city’s national Historic Landmark District which some feel could be in jeopardy because of structural changes since the 1973 designation.
And – to add to the irony – at the end of the week, the city building department issued construction permits for the much-debated four-story parking garage and new three-story hotel with a roof-top bar, right in the middle of the downtown district.
The history of 303 Associates’ plans for a four-story parking garage on the lot bordered by Craven, Port Republic and West streets and the hotel on the corner of Port Republic and Scott Street could be the subject of a week-long symposium by itself.
Both projects since they were first introduced have drawn considerable opposition from citizens concerned about their impact on the confined downtown business district. There were multiple hearings before the local review board. Lawsuits have been threatened and filed.
It was one year ago, January 2022, that a district court judge upheld the project approvals given by the city’s Historic Review Board and in the meantime, the National Park Service had been contacted to investigate if the Historic Landmark designation was still appropriate.
The preliminary report is available online, and concerned residents are encouraged to read it and offer their comments. Whether that report will have any bearing on the proposed 303 Associates projects is unlikely. It appears only the courts, or the developers, can determine the fate of those buildings now.
Beaufort and the surrounding Lowcountry are known for their natural beauty but you hardly ever see a tourism report or fluffy magazine article about the city without mention of the historic homes and quiet, tree-lined streets.
But just like the natural beauty spots are changing due to development and economic pressures, those scenic, man-made structures are being influenced by those same pressures. Case in point, the Northwest Quadrant and Old Commons neighborhoods where the older homes have been demolished and replaced with Southern Living designs found in subdivisions all over the country.
It’s a difficult task as many sociologists will attest, to balance the past with the uncertain future. Community leaders – both those elected and those outspoken because of their interests – have a tough job.
Town’s updated tree ordinance postponed for a month
PORT ROYAL – It was a small but determined group of tree-huggers gathered at last week’s Port Royal Town Council meeting to witness what was expected to be the second and final reading of an ordinance strengthening the town’s tree protection ordinance.
Unfortunately, they left disappointed after the council members, who had so adamantly endorsed the idea of stronger tree protections for the past several months, had questions.
The matter was postponed until the March1 council workshop, when the elected folks will talk some more about increasing fines for cutting trees without permits in preparation for development.
The draft, as written, already increases penalties five-fold, from $1,000 for certain specimen trees to $5,000. But while Council members said they might want even more “teeth” in the penalties, they were also concerned about the increased costs to single-family homes, at a time when “affordable housing” is a realistic buzzword.
Again, not an easy job.
Short-term rentals limit passes vote in Folly Beach
FOLLY BEACH – A majority of town voters said “yes” last week to limiting the number of short-term rentals in their community, a move other communities across the country frustrated with the changing nature of their neighborhoods, have been watching.
Unfortunately, the “binding” referendum which was endorsed by 53 percent of those who turned out for the special vote can still be reversed by the Folly Beach Town Council. The vote is also expected to be challenged in court by those who see short-term rentals as vital to their finances or a violation of their personal property rights.
The referendum, which limits the number of STR’s to 800, less than the 1,000-plus that already exist, was placed on a ballot after enough residents signed a petition to force a vote.
And that action came after the same concerned citizens went to Town Council meetings asking, unsuccessfully, for the elected officials to do something about the changing nature of their community as the number of visitors outnumber those who live there.
Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and newspaper columnist. In her former role as a reporter with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today and Beaufort Today, she prided herself in trying to stay neutral and unbiased. As a columnist, these are her opinions. Her goal is to be factual but opinionated, based on her own observations. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.