Growing pains come with town, county growth
Gwyneth J. Saunders
"If you build it, he will come."
In the baseball movie "Field of Dreams," this often-misquoted line refers to a farmer who, upon hearing the phrase often enough, decided he had to plow under his cornfield to build a baseball diamond.
It worked out for him and in the end, the misquote is correct: "If you build it, they will come."
The sames hold true for Beaufort County.
The population in 1930 was 21,815, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The July 1, 2015, estimate was 179,583. The Beaufort County Planning Department in 1990 projected the population would be 168,300 - in the year 2020.
"Beaufort County has become a very popular location so more development can be expected," said Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville. "It is the responsibility of the county and the municipalities to make certain that this development is responsible."
In 2000, some 2,300 people lived within Bluffton's one square mile. The 2015 census estimated 57,932 people live in Bluffton's 54.44 square miles.
"It is important to encourage development in appropriate locations and it is equally important to discourage development in inappropriate locations," said Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka.
Bluffton adopted its Comprehensive Plan in 2007 and amended it in 2014. Other town documents that provide long-term growth strategies are the Southern Regional Plan, SC46 Corridor Plan, Old Town Master Plan and May River Watershed Action Plan. The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) regulates development through design and performance standards.
"Our town is 92 percent master planned, and decisions on the layout of our town came long before this council was in office," the mayor said. "Thoughtful land use and growth management decision-making can benefit a community in a way that creates vibrant places, stimulates economic growth and supports the local housing market."
The City of Beaufort wrote its first development plan in 1970. The county uses the Community Development Code (CDC), which it adopted in December 2014 after several countywide charrettes. It replaced the previous document, the Zoning and Development Standards Ordinance (ZDSO), adopted in 1999.
"Property owners have rights to use their property," said Sommerville. "The county has zoning ordinances that can limit what can be done on any given piece of property that takes into account such things as infrastructure requirements, water quality, impact on the surrounding area, the environment, etc."
Sommerville said the county adopted the CDC because the ZDSO told people what not to do rather than provide guidance as to what was desired, which is what the CDC defines.
The mayor said many elements are important in Bluffton's development, including urban design, architecture, adding value to the community's history and culture, protecting and enhancing the May River and natural resources, innovative and effective public infrastructure, providing a wide range of housing choices and community involvement.
"I strongly encourage communities to work with landowners and developers to reach mutually beneficial goals. We did this during the recession and made decisions based on this formed growth framework map," she said.
Bluffton has a number of council-appointed boards, commissions and committees. When positions become available, the town posts notices in various outlets seeking volunteers. Opportunities to serve include the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals, Historic Preservation Commission, May River Watershed Action Plan Implementation Committee, Affordable Housing Committee, Beautification Committee and the Don Ryan Center for Innovation.
"There are two planning commissions that deal with development in Beaufort County," said Sommerville. "The Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Beaufort County Planning Commission as well as the Beaufort County Zoning Board of Appeals are staffed by volunteers."
"If we focus on people/our residents and the commonalities of what is important in our community such as available schools, access to nature, public infrastructure that supports private investment, enhancing our history and culture, quality of our parks, and safe roads, we will be successful," Sulka said.
For more information and to read the County Development Code, visit www.bcgov.net/departments/Planning-and-Development/planning/cdc.
For Bluffton's planning and development documents, visit www.townofbluffton.sc.gov or contact town clerk Kim Chapman at 843-706-4505.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.