Major shopping center planned on busy stretch

Robert Smalls Parkway has been the site of numerous critical and several deadly collisions over the years

By Mindy Lucas

A busy stretch of road that includes a deadly intersection along Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort could soon become a whole lot busier with the addition of another major retail center in the area.

Charlotte, N.C.-based developers The Morgan Companies received conditional approval to build a large-scale, mixed-use retail center on the corner of Robert Smalls Parkway and Parris Island Gateway.

The 28-acre site is directly across the road from another popular shopping center that includes a Walmart Supercenter, Belk and T.J. Maxx.

Beaufort Station will feature several major retailers and a mix of smaller shops and restaurants, company representatives said at the Beaufort – Town of Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission’s (MPC) recent meeting held on Monday, April 19.

The MPC gave conditional approval to a conceptual sketch plat for the center at the meeting, but not before discussing traffic and much-needed safety improvements along the parkway.

The strip of road in front of Walmart and the unusually broad intersection at Robert Smalls Parkway and Parris Island Gateway has seen a number of critical traffic accidents over the years that have included several fatalities.

In one weekend alone in December 2017, emergency workers responded to three collisions along the stretch that sent five people to the hospital and took the life of one involved in a wreck at the intersection, according to area reports.

S.C. DOT has had a safety project planned for that area for years, city officials said at the meeting, including a new intersection and traffic signal at W.K. Alston Drive, but funding has been delayed.

That project would connect W.K. Alston Drive to Walmart, diverting traffic to the new intersection. A plan to extend the drive across Robert Smalls Parkway and eventually tie it in with Goethe Hill Road, was also included in the Beaufort Code’s Street Infrastructure Plans, city officials noted.

MPC board chair Michael Tomy asked if the city’s engineers couldn’t “look seriously at that.”

“I see that as a huge problem area if we don’t do something like that,” he said.

Another strip mall?

Made on behalf of owners Myrtle Bush Farms LP of Beaufort, the application also listed 877 parking spaces. Commission members took issue with how much space was being presented as paved and how many trees would be cut down.

The sketch plan showed a 50-foot landscaped buffer, similar to Walmart’s, along Robert Smalls Parkway and a 20-foot landscaped buffer along Parris Island Gateway.

MPC members were also critical of the overall layout of the center, with at least two members saying it looked like a throwback to the 1970s.

“This is an architecture that is reminiscent of the 1970s through the ’90s. I’m surprised that you’ve got a strip mall. I thought they were passé and I’m hoping … you will make this more attractive,” MPC member Judy Alling said.

Developers underscored that the plan was only conceptual and meant to give a sense of the subdivision.

The MPC’s approval came with the condition that developers rework the project’s internal roadways so as not to create cut-throughs or shortcuts for drivers looking to cut the corner at the intersection.

In addition, the MPC added four recommendations to include in the projects’ future site plans. Members would like to see:

More native vegetation and specimen trees kept;

Main stores be double sided or with faces for both highways;

More landscaped buffer along Paris Island Gateway;

Less impervious parking surfaces throughout.

If they move forward, developers are to submit a preliminary plat for administrative review, said Dan Frazier, senior planner with city’s office of Community and Economic Development.

From there project planners may submit land development and building plans for the city’s design review process. Since the buildings are likely to exceed 10,000 square feet, the plans will then go before the Design Review Board, he said.

Mindy Lucas is the Beaufort reporter for The Island News and is a staff writer for Lowcountry Weekly. She can be reached at mindy.islandnews@gmail.co

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