Mayor Keyserling’s Response to Gordon on Clear-Cutting:

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Gordon Fritz is right: thanks for the wake up call

Dear Gordon,

I appreciate the kind personal words. I also hear and share much of your concern about seemingly uncontrolled growth and its adverse impact.

As a city we face a delicate balance between protecting the past and encouraging a future — change can be good and growth can be good, if done within the context of our Lowcountry character and values. Clear cutting does not fit this category. Sometimes those values can’t legally be put into ordinances, and sometimes developers make decisions for the bottom line and not for the long-term good of the local community. Others, however, take great care to protect the Lowcountry. Property rights vs the common good can be a difficult challenge.

I don’t like seeing tress coming down. But the question is not what I like or dislike because ordinances that drive decisions are the product of many councils over a period of years.

If nothing else, reading your letter many times and seeing how it has moved the community, I have decided I am ready to move forward on the City’s Parks and Trees Advisory Commission recommendation for a tighter tree ordinance that will require stronger measures for mitigation not the least of which will provide financial resources for replacing trees in our city. I am not sure the measure will save many trees from the bulldozers, but know the funding for mitigation will create a means for establishing more trees in both private and public places.

I have heretofore been reluctant to vote for this proposal for fear that such would drive up the cost for development, but your letter reminds me of the costs the community pays when we lose trees and challenge it poses to the character of our city.

I love Beaufort, its hometown character and natural environment, as do you and most who grew up here along with the many who have come to make this their home.

I cannot think of one day, during the 26 years I was away, that I did not wake up longing to be back on the Beaufort River I have loved since childhood. I was first away at school and then for a career because there were not then and not now jobs for many natives who would like to be able to live in their hometown. There are also the many who did not go away and paid a high price by being underemployed because they did not want to leave the creeks, rivers and woods and the unique lifestyle celebrated in Beaufort for years.

While the central theme to your letter is better-managed growth with a higher respect for our natural resources, you covered a broad range of issues controlled by multiple governmental jurisdictions, diverse decision makers and private sector stakeholders mostly on Ladys Island. The most heinous is residential including new subdivisions none of which are in the city and would likely not be allowed to decimate some of our beautiful land.

In recent weeks, I have heard from not a small number of Ladys Island residents about what appears to be unbridled residential growth and a nagging distaste for big box and chain stores that follow.

I understand and sympathize with what they are saying; but from my prior experience working in commercial real estate, I know that large national companies do not blindly look at maps to site a new location. Rather, they engage comprehensive market studies about the demographics of an area, they determine the numbers of current and projected roof tops, the disposable income of the residents, the traffic patterns to schools and to and from work, while identifying voids in services not provided in defined in the study areas. This is to say that Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, Harris Teeter and others that will likely join the queue of businesses locating on Ladys Island are coming because they are following the people who have moved to Ladys Island and established a market for their products. This is to say that the more people who move to Lady’s Island and St Helena, the more new retail will follow.

It is not the role of government to pick winners and losers, to permit one kind of business and not another. That is the role of the free market.

That said, development guidelines and zoning do have an impact once a site is selected. The city of Beaufort has our strategy and procedures. The county has theirs. Each has differing procedures for residential and commercial though both parties are working to bring them closer together.

Fortunately, with few exceptions, the proposed pattern of growth for the City of Beaufort is through infill and redevelopment as it is more culturally, environmentally and fiscally sustainable. We have little room for new large subdivisions without new annexations, which I do not foresee in the immediate future, the challenges of Ladys Island should not be replicated in the city other than the commercial developments along highway 21 which are driven by those who live outside of the city.

Furthermore, at every opportunity we can find, we work with partners to open up the vistas that are signatures to lowcountry living. For example, as we move forward with the Boundary Street Redevelopment hand in hand with Beaufort County and the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, we will do our best to remove dead properties (vacant and abandoned) and relocate viable businesses to open up the vista creating a passive park so that when one enters our great city, he or she will no longer think we are another Anywhere, USA.

That said, commercial development poses a different set of challenges from residential. When the market demands large retail centers, there is little way to save large numbers of trees because of the large footprint of the building, the large (“free parking”) lots and the necessary infrastructure like the underground storm water system at Publix. In cases like that we can require mitigation on site, as we have done, but it takes years for trees to mature and blend in with the new structures.

Change is not easy. But a new wave of preservation is welcome and whether or not one agrees, it is good for discussion and education.

Thank you Gordon for taking the time and interest to share your thoughtful letter to me and to the public.

Sincerely, Billy K