Corporal Joe Delong and K-9 Tiko chat with Capt. Joseph Babkiewicz outside the Bluffton Police Department Law Enforcement Center recently, while another officer assists a citizen. The center was built as a result of studies done for the Town of Bluffton’s Comprehensive Plan. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

Area residents will soon have an opportunity to share their ideas, concerns and desires for what the Town of Bluffton will be like 10 years from now.

The town’s Comprehensive Plan, which is intended to establish a vision of the future, is due for a major rewrite, and everyone is invited to have a hand in it.

“The comprehensive plan identifies what is important and – based on that – creates some goals,” said Charlotte Moore, the town’s principal planner and the plan’s project manager. “It’s more of a big picture view of the town, and from that big picture we start breaking it down into parts.”

A comprehensive plan is required by the state of South Carolina, and must be updated every 10 years, with an evaluation at least every five years.

The initial plan was adopted in September 2007. When it came up for review, an analysis by an independent consulting firm outlined a number of missing parts and outdated data. The amended document was finished in 2014, and is the version town staff and Bluffton’s residents will re-work.

As one example of what a comprehensive plan has meant to the town, Bluffton’s previous document determined there was a need for a law enforcement center. Subsequently, the Bluffton Police Department’s facility was built in Buckwalter Place.

Moore said the vision can be anything from protecting natural resources to determining infrastructure. It also is the first step in  determining how property is zoned for future land use.

Heather Colin, Bluffton’s director of growth management, said the document requires an inventory of the town’s position on many subjects but starts with the same basic premise.

“This is what we have. What do we want in the next 10 years? Here’s how we get there,” she said. “You look at it comprehensively in development, transportation, natural resources, population, housing. You can’t set zoning if you don’t know what you want your town to look like.”

Rewriting the plan will not be done in a vacuum, however, with only limited select individuals or groups participating. Anyone with an interest is invited to participate.

“There’s going to be so much public input over the next 18 months, it’s definitely an opportunity to provide input and feedback,” said Colin.

The portion of the 2020-21 agreement presented to Bluffton Town Council Jan. 12 noted that the project is expected to be completed by June 2022. Work has already begun with the outside project consultant MKSK, Inc., the company that was awarded the contract and which has done work for the town in the past.

“They are creating a roadmap for the process which will take us from the very beginning where we are now to the adoption stage,” said Colin.

The next stage is to create a steering committee, which the town council will select at the March meeting. This committee will be representative of Bluffton’s diversity with its diverse demographics.

There will be stakeholder groups – those people who have a particular interest or experience in matters relating to nine different chapters in the plan: population, cultural resources, natural resources, housing, economic development, community facilities, land use, transportation, and priority investment (which is planning the best use of infrastructure funds with adjacent jurisdictions and relevant agencies).

With the nine chapters containing information on specific topics, there might be a question as to whether one aspect is more important than another. Colin said they are all equally important.

“Some have more weight, but all of our policies are intended to work in tandem with each other,” she said.

Some information cannot be adjusted. For instance determining if there is a need for more schools or more housing is dependent upon a specific piece of information.

“The population is what it is, and the numbers are what they are,” said Moore. “You can’t control the population data but you can control the needs. All of the chapters are important and you need that analysis to identify the other needs.”

Colin said the project will need public participation to refine the plans.

“This process will include residents from around town even if they are not tied to any particular field,” she said. “Where you live may affect what your feelings are about Bluffton. Some may be concerned about sprawl, or historic structures. We want to hear from everyone.”

How that participation will happen will be varied and probably different from past public community planning events.

“We don’t know what COVID will allow us to do, so there will probably be a hybrid process – online, Zoom, surveys possibly on the website,” Moore said. “You may see the consultant or town staff at farmers markets or other public events. We don’t know exactly what it will look like, but there will be a great deal of public input. MKSK has had a lot of experience recently in other communities, so we are confident there will be different options for public participation.”

Information will be available at townofbluffton.sc.gov from the very early stages and throughout the process.

“People can check in and see where we are. There are going to be some regional issues being addressed in the comprehensive plan,” said Colin. “It’s important that we get that diverse input from all geographic areas of the town and the surrounding areas. All public comment is welcome. It won’t be thrown out because of the zip code.”

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