What a difference a decade makes (or not)

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By Jim Hicks

While doing research for an article, I reviewed the Lady’s Island Business and Professionals Association newsletters for the year 2006.

As many of you will remember, in 2006 Lady’s Island was experiencing a population growth boom. A new family was moving to the island almost every other day and the average selling price of a house on the island was over $300,000.

Yes, it was also the period just before the bottom dropped out of both the housing market and the national economy.. We, as a community, were struggling to cope with the pressures of growth that was assumed by many would continue without end.

In that year, 10 years in the past, the following occurred on Lady’s Island:

• Permits for construction of 159 new homes were issued (a drop of 53 from the previous year and perhaps a hint of what was to come).

• Twenty-eight new businesses came to the island.

• Coosa Elementary School was overcrowded with a student population of 640.

• An investor announced his intention to purchase and develop the Whitehall property.

• Winn Dixie Grocery store closed and Richard Gray purchased the shopping center and announced his intention to open a hardware store at that location.

• The president of Pathways Connect announced a sidewalk would be installed along Sunset Boulevard.

• A new St. Peter’s Catholic Church opened.

• Seventy-two percent of Lady’s Island voters supported a successful referendum to allow the Rural and Critical Lands Program to borrow $50 million.

• Sixty-two percent of Lady’s Island voters supported a successful referendum to impose a 1-percent sales tax to raise $152 million for construction of road projects to include a new span for the McTeer Bridge, a widened Lady’s Island Drive and a study of a northern bypass.

• A Lady’s Island Tax Increment Financing District established in 2001 for the purpose of providing funding for infrastructure (streetlights, signs, landscaping) in the Village Center expired after having raised only $350,000.  A request was made by the LIBPA to use a portion of these funds to conduct a joint Beaufort County/City of Beaufort study of the Village Center in regard to roadway connectivity and access management of Sea Island Parkway. The study did not get accomplished.

• An “origin and destination” study of the two Lady’s Island bridges was conducted with the result being that (at that time) 70 percent of all the vehicles leaving Lady’s Island remained in Beaufort and the Port Royal area.

• Beaufort County Council approved the route for construction of a Lady’s Island Drive/Sea Island Parkway connector road and authorized a contract for the design of the road, which was scheduled to be funded by transportation impact fees. The state legislature passed a 1-percent sales tax, which allowed the funds ($500 million) to be gathered at the state level and distributed to school districts for operations.

• Beaufort County voters approved a $43.6 million school referendum to fund the construction of two new schools (one in Bluffton and Whale Branch High School).

As can be seen from the above review of 2006, some things on Lady’s Island have changed (Walmart, Harris Teeter, new Publix) and some things appear to remain the same (need for funding to support new infrastructure, concern regarding overwhelming our bridges, roads and schools).

The effects of population growth on Lady’s Island have been studied and restudied with the result being the roads have been widened, an additional bridge span built, electrical capacity increased, property for another elementary school purchased and water and sewer capability improved.

What was not anticipated was the commercial portion of the island (Village Center) becoming a magnet for national retailers and the traffic resulting from off island” customers.

That is a significant change from 2006 when the basic concept for the Village Center was that it would serve as a center for professional services plus churches and public schools.

A hard look at what the Village Center can be – and what it should be – is going to be necessary and is going to require some answers other that building wider roads.

We can continue to allow national retailers to establish stores along Sea Island Parkway until customers will no longer visit the island due to the traffic, and then we will be left with empty buildings.

Or, we can take a comprehensive look at the situation and together (Beaufort County and the city of Beaufort).

Hopefully, the joint transportation study scheduled to be conducted in the near future can be the first step.

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