After several months of data gathering through online surveys, and Zoom meetings with the steering committee, key stakeholders and community members, Blueprint Bluffton – the town’s major rewrite of the comprehensive plan – is now at the “long, quiet phase of the planning process.”
Nearly 700 people provided their input as to how they see Bluffton now, and what ideas they have that would improve and enhance the town’s image 10 years from now.
“What came out were updates and information from the community that we’ll go forward with, on such concerns as the May River, affordable housing options, growth and traffic,” said Charlotte Moore, the town’s principal planner and the plan’s project manager. “There was nothing really startling in the results. The stage we are at is data gathering. We are looking at Beaufort County’s comprehensive plan, which they just adopted. This is the long quiet phase of the planning process.”
The comprehensive plan establishes a vision for the future. The document is required by the state, and must be revised every 10 years, with a re-evaluation every five.
The steering committee, which oversees the planning and execution process, was created with the intention of representing Bluffton’s diverse demographics. Most of the 15 members have lived in Bluffton more than 20 years, and a couple were life-long residents. They provided the first data input to the process in March.
“The steering committee was requested by our consultant MKSK, Inc., to be approximately 15 people. They represent different sectors of Bluffton – either they are business people, they have particular knowledge on a subject, they were suggested by council and some were identified by staff as potential members,” Moore said. “Their purpose is to filter information from consultant and staff, and to provide direction about the process. Ultimately, it will be up to council to determine the final comprehensive plan, but basically the process will be filtered through the steering committee.”
When asked what their three favorite things were about Bluffton, the top answers were the May River, Old Town, and people – some of the same answers given by the 294 people who responded to the online survey two months later.
The top three concerns, however, were different from the survey-takers. Whereas the May River, uncontrolled growth, and safety were the top three concerns for the steering committee, the respondents were more concerned about traffic, development, and building.
At the stakeholder roundtable discussions, more than 90 people were interviewed on 13 topics: affordable housing, transportation, workforce and economic development, jurisdictional cooperation, quality of life, environment, development cost and regulations, community concerns, Old Town, equity and legacy residents, history and culture, education, and regional concerns.
Some of their responses, as Moore said, were not really startling. The Blueprint Bluffton Community Engagement Summary Report No. 1, issued Nov. 4 and available on the town’s website, included the following statements submitted by those interviewed.
“The Lowcountry quality of life and State of Mind is what attracts people to Bluffton.”
“The May River is polluted, which is a health issue and an environmental justice concern for the Gullah-Geechee who depend on the river for their traditional foodways and way of life.”
“The community doesn’t want Bluffton to look like everywhere else.”
“Port activity and expansion will drive more regional growth.”
Two community roundtables were held on Zoom at the end of May. The 52 participants were evenly divided between residents and non-residents. Most of the non-residents worked in Bluffton, while most of the residents owned property in town. Their priorities for the blueprint mirrored those already queried: concerns for the May River, traffic, development and designs, cultural resources and the Gullah-Geechee community, and conservation.
Some topics have more weight than others in the planning process, but the policies implemented are intended to work together. Moore said that some data – such as population – cannot be changed, and knowing that particular piece of information will determine the need for more schools or housing.
Moore said there will be a community meeting on a day to be determined in January.
The complete summary report can be found online at townofbluffton.sc.gov by typing “Blueprint Bluffton” in the search bar.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.