By Chuck Newton
On June 28, the Sea Island Corridor Coalition and SC Coastal Conservation League released their long-awaited report, “Designing a Future For Lady’s Island: A Community Guide To Growth Management.”
This 16-page report pulls together the thinking of more than 400 residents of Lady’s Island who participated in a community forum on Feb. 23, and the work of another 125 residents in nine “mapping” workshops during March that began to define what is in keeping with the island’s character.
Given this turnout and the enthusiasm that accompanied it, it should be clear that citizens on Lady’s Island are concerned that the future of their community is in limbo.
The South Carolina Lowcountry offers one of the most in-demand landscapes in America. Population in Beaufort County alone is expected to increase 52 percent by 2025, from 172,000 in 2013 to 261,000.
If left to chance, population growth will lead to suburban sprawl – a growth pattern that destroys farms, wetlands and forests; degrades waterways; pollutes the air; reduces wildlife habitat; and jeopardizes public health and safety.
Indirect effects include traffic congestion, less time outside and escalating costs to local governments of providing services, like roads, water and sewer.
The result of suburban sprawl is almost always the loss of sense of community.
But Beaufort County and the city of Beaufort are in a good position to plan for growth in a manner that not only accommodates a growing population, but also enhances the existing natural, built and cultural assets and communities of the Lowcountry.
And no place needs a thoughtful vision and plan more than Lady’s Island.
Located on Beaufort County’s urban/suburban boundary and parceled among myriad jurisdictions, Lady’s Island is at risk of slipping through the comprehensive planning cracks.
In 1970, 1,995 residents called Lady’s Island home. By 1980, population grew to 3,120. Today, Lady’s Island population is 12,500 and climbing. Recent growth pressures presented themselves as a handful of development proposals, with several projects (Walmart and Oyster Bluff specifically) provoking a community outcry that these developments were not in keeping with the character of the island.
To be able to ensure the character and livability of Lady’s Island, community participants articulated five essential principles they believe should guide future development decisions:
• Inspired Development: Inspired, functional patterns of development within the developed areas of Lady’s Island that support small businesses, new residents and community interaction.
• Connected Transportation: An integrated transportation network that includes bicycles, pedestrians and cars and allows for future public transit.
• Character Enhancement: Retention of the island’s character and support that advances a vibrant rural community with healthy farms, wetlands and waterways.
• Sunlight & Predictability: A fully transparent, predictable development process for future growth that is collaborative across jurisdictional boundaries will support a community-specific plan rather than developer-initiated, piecemeal developments.
• Meaningful Community Involvement: A concerned, educated and engaged citizenry that works toward solutions alongside experts and elected officials.
“Designing A Future For Lady’s Island” is a beginning, not an end. The community hopes this document serves as a starting point and guidance for leadership to act, creating a comprehensive vision and growth plan for Lady’s Island, and making the decisions to make it happen.
As plans evolve into action, citizens will continue to participate in the process.
This forum will be a true success if residents, developers, professionals and elected officials recognize these five principles as guideposts for future growth and a holistic way to view upcoming plans, development proposals and ideas.
This work is not the singular responsibility of any one entity – public or private. As stated above, there is a pubic expectation that governments will begin to work more closely together, that developers will work to the public benefit as well as their own, that the public will continue to be engaged, and that the result will be a Lady’s Island we can point to with unique pride of place.
The complete Designing A Future For Lady’s Island report, together with a number of supporting documents, can be seen online at www.designingladysisland.com
Chuck Newton is affiliated with the Sea Island Corridor Coalition.