Bluffton's New Riverside tract offers diverse use options

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A cookout was held Nov. 2 for those who attended an open house at the New Riverside barn property at the intersection of highways 46 and 170, bordering the roundabout toward Savannah. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

What can you do with an old red barn?

On a farm, it's a haven for cows, horses, barn cats or tractors.

Some barns become homes or museums, and others ... well, "what to do?" was the burning question Bluffton's planners asked residents at a Nov. 2 open house held at the New Riverside Barn property.

The Town of Bluffton acquired the property in May 2018.

The 2,700 square-foot barn with a soft, faded red patina on the outside and a solid frame inside was the focal point of discussion on how it can best benefit the community. The property is at the southwest corner of the SC 46 and SC 170 intersection - the one with the circle.

Visitors were encouraged to look over maps, examine ways the building can be used, and speak with town staff and a landscape architect.

Krista Flack of Beaufort came with her three children to see how the property can be used by everyone. "I heard they might put in an inclusive park, so I am here to support that," said Flack, who works for Lowcountry Therapy.

An inclusive park is one where children of all abilities are able to safely play together without struggling to use the playground equipment.

"This would be closer for Beaufort families than Hilton Head," Flack added. "Just having a safer place to bring kids where they might not have to struggle, one with a fence and sensory things - that would be very good."

An inclusive park is one of many options offered county residents who were given two ways to voice their choice. A survey form asked people to check how important each project was to them; votes were also cast with a set of three dots voters could to stick under their illustrated preferences.

In addition to an inclusive park, choices included fixing the barn for community events, outdoor dining and weddings; an oyster roast facility; and food truck courtyard.

Land use included playgrounds that blend with the environment, or a challenge course; and open lawns for outdoor movies, concerts and multipurpose nature trails.

Shell Hall resident Beth Green would like to know more about those trails.

"I am here to find out what all this is about and vote for equestrian trails. We have a very large equestrian community in Bluffton, and we feel we need to be able to share the trail system with the bikers and walkers," Green said.

The 37-acre property has plenty of open space, lots of trees and - on the day of the open house - room for tables and a grill that was busy cooking up hot dogs and fries with plenty of lawn space left over.

Dan Wensing of the Haven was checking out the proposal and what people would be willing to put up with. Judith Hughes of Hampton Lake was similarly interested - and concerned.

"I use that circle a lot traveling to Savannah, and I'm concerned about where they're putting the fire station. I think they're going to have trouble in rush hour," Hughes said. "I'd like to see this used for events so people don't always have to go into Old Town. It's a beautiful place to live. I'm glad people are interested in management and want to hold the town responsible."

For then-candidate Bridgette Frazier, who three days later won a seat on Bluffton Town Council, it was both a chance to meet prospective constituents prior to the election, and to provide her own input on how the property should be developed.

"My aim is for it to be appealing to a younger crowd," Frazier said. "I'm all for food trucks and a splash park or water park. We have a growing population and they need things to do. You can only bowl so many frames."

The surveys are now compiled and tallied, said Debbie Szpanka, town public information officer.

"With those answers, staff members and our consultants will create park master plan options. Town council will review those options and give guidance in early 2020," Szpanka said. "The town is in the first phase of master planning."

Whatever the final projects are, one thing is certain - the big red barn is an attractive landmark with potential for many community activities.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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