New Sea Island Corridor group aims to influence development decisions

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The Sea Island Corridor Coalition became a reality rising from the recent debates over Walmart, Oyster Bluff and the Greenheath developments.

Originally an initiative of Distant Island residents, the group organized itself to review developments relative to the Walmart project. The group grew as other issues came to the forefront. It made its formal debut before the Metropolitan Planning Commission, successfully opposing revisions to the Greenheath PUD on Lady’s Island.

Their primary focus is on the Sea Island Parkway Corridor, one of the most development-threated areas in Beaufort County. But they include the “lands and waters” that touch the Corridor, because decisions affecting the north of Lady’s Island, for example, end up creating issues all along the Parkway, from the swing bridge to St. Helena.

They feel one of the problems has been too much “distance” between residents and government decision-making. Developers arrive well-armed. But government has traditionally been a poor communicator. And residents are too often slow to respond, lacking solid information, disengaged or too distracted to watch government at work. When developers get everything they want, when decisions are made, and when the impacts finally become apparent, sometimes years later, the result is public anger, frustration and loss of confidence in the institutions of government — whether merited or not.

Lack of citizen involvement is particularly evident on community planning and land use issues, which involve deliberations and decisions that are highly specialized, technical and difficult to evaluate in the short term.

Right or wrong, the decisions that resulted in a Walmart on Lady’s Island were first made more than 20 years ago, in 1994. Approvals of the Greenheath residential development were first made in 1997. By the time the public becomes aware of such plans, it is often too late to bring its voice to the deliberations. Their goal is to change all that, and there is no time like the present.

The Sea Island Parkway corridor is under tremendous pressure. Roads are crowded and intersections are clogged, and every new development approval or re-zoning makes things worse. The group feels the County must begin to balance growth and infrastructure. And elected officials, faced with inadequate infrastructure, must show some courage on one-hand, and on the other, get community backing for when they do step up and say “no.”

The goal of the Sea Islands Corridor Coalition is straightforward: they intend to do their best to monitor development initiatives as they are introduced, participate in evaluation and decision-making as a representative of the community, and motivate the public to get engaged in the process. They want to shine some light on the development process, and be a respected, influential voice for the communities that, in the end, bear the brunt of development decisions.

The Coalition leaders explain that they are not nay-sayers. Chuck Newton, one of the founders of the new group says, “We recognize the need for economic development, and we recognize that communities must change. We want to help decision-makers make smart development decisions, back them up when they do, and let the community know when they don’t.”

Membership in the group is nearing 200, and includes residents of Crystal Lake, Newpoint, Coosaw Point, Royal Pines, Lost Island, Distant Island and Dataw Island. Everyone is welcome to join, and those interested in learning more are encouraged to e-mail the group at seaislandcoalition@gmail.com, or check out their page on Facebook.