By Jim Hicks, Lady’s Island Planning Commission Representative
The City of Beaufort, as part of its program to transition to a form based code, has recently conducted a series of public meetings or charrettes, during which planners met with residents and attempted to develop a common vision for the city. The county has plans to conduct a similar meeting in the future for Lady’s Island residents. At this charrette the residents and businesses on Lady’s Island will have an opportunity to express their thoughts as to the future of Lady’s Island and how we might improve the current zoning. As a starting point for this discussion following is a review of how Lady’s Island present zoning has stood the test of the last decade and a few thoughts as to how we might improve it.
- Village Center (commercial area along Sea Island Parkway)
(Architecture) When the zoning for the Village Center was drafted in 1999, regulations were included to require new buildings to be located near the street with parking in the rear. SCB&T and Butler Marine are two examples of the results of these regulations. The original rational for these regulations was a desire to continue the architectural style utilized by the City of Beaufort on Carteret Street. Sea Island Parkway is going to remain a very busy 4 lane highway for the foreseeable future and the volume of traffic will only increase. Perhaps it is time to consider whether continuing this policy of requiring new construction to be located near the road is appropriate or should an increase in flexibility be allowed when determining the best location for new buildings in the Village Center.
(Uses) Under the present system of zoning each specific use or type of business must be specifically authorized and any special caveats be spelled out in detail. Under form based zoning the emphasis is on the appearance of the building with much less concern as what the interior will be utilized for. At first glance this sounds great but raises serious concern as to what type of business your neighbor may choose for his or her adjacent building. While new “use” regulations will probably require a bit of effort to find comfortable ground there is no question that the present zoning should be changed to allow “mixed use” (business and residents to be in the same building).
(Signs) No single area causes more irritation and frustration than that of signs. A review of the current sign regulations should be conducted.
- Redevelopment District (the residential area adjacent to the Village Center that has deteriorated in quality over the years)
(Validate concept) The establishment of a Redevelopment District was an effort to provide sufficient incentive to entice developers into investing in the redevelopment of the residential area surrounding the Village Center which had, over the years, deteriorated. Some of these incentives included removing any cap on density, expedited permitting and authorized multifamily development. During the housing boom there was very little or no interest by developers in redevelopment since there was such a strong market for new homes and plenty of existing undeveloped land. With the tightening of access to mortgages rental properties will most likely become increasingly attractive and locating them near schools and stores is the latest trend. A close look at this zoning would appear appropriate along with serious study of how form based zoning could be used to improve the concept and development of rental property promoted.
Expanded Home Business. (The property along the 4 lane portion of Sams Point road)
Expanded Home Business zoning is unique to Lady’s Island and was designed to allow very light (nonintrusive on residential neighbors) types of commercial businesses such as office and medical practices to utilize the homes in this area for businesses. This zoning has been a success in that many of the homes in this area, which were near the end of their practical life as rental units, have now been purchased, renovated and today serve commercial purposes. A review of the types of commercial uses presently allowed in this zoning would appear to be in order to see if a good idea might be better with a few minor changes.
- Professional Office District. (The property adjacent to Lady’s Island Drive)
The Professional Office District was established with the objective of limiting the commercial types of development along this highly traveled road to those types which would generate minimal traffic interruption. The banks and professional office park which have located in this area have been specifically of the nature desired. The ordinance probably should require that businesses along the road be connected by a parallel road.
Rural Business District. (Property along the right side of the road coming from Chowan Creek in the Eustis community)
Rural Business District zoning was developed with the specific purpose of protecting or legalizing those businesses in the rural area which had existed prior to the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan and with its adoption were made “nonconforming”. It has worked well and probably needs little or no change.
Community Preservation. (Residential area of Lady’s Island)
The Community Preservation zoning for the residential portion of Lady’s Island with its 2 houses to an acre is, in many ways, the opposite of new urbanism with its form based code in that it does not promote high density, stores and schools are not within walking distance of most homes and vehicle transportation is necessary. Accepting the fact that Community Preservation zoning and the form based code promote different lifestyles the simple truth is over the last decade new home buyers made Lady’s Island the fastest growing area in northern Beaufort County and most of that growth occurred in the Community Preservation area. As to the future market, with the price of gas constantly creeping higher and higher the attraction for living in a community in which one can meet most needs by walking or riding a bike will certainly increase.
Rural (most of the northern part of Lady’s Island)
How form based code can best be utilized in the rural areas of Beaufort County is open to question. Over the last decade the residents and property owners of the rural portion of Lady’s Island have made quite clear their desire to retain the present quality of life, retain the present limit of 1 house per 3 acres and protect the environment. Considering the fact that the rural portion of the northern part of the island is within the flight path of the Air Station, contains an aquifer recharge area, includes approximately 600 acres under conservation easement, is not going to see a northern by pass in the foreseeable future and the property owners like it just as it is – perhaps we should just leave it alone.
There is no question we can improve the existing zoning and probably with the use of a form based code can improve the Village Center and the Redevelopment District. As to the Lady’s Island of the future following are a few items for your consideration.
- A way to keep the grass cut along the roads and the streets clean.
- A park with athletic fields, tennis courts and trails (Springfield Road is a great start).
- A park (Crystal Lake?) similar to City of Beaufort Pigeon Point Park which is designed for small children.
- A Meridian Road walking path connecting Sea Island Parkway and Lady’s Island Drive.
- Street lights along the Village Center portion of Sea Island Parkway.
- Sidewalks leading to Lady’s Island Middle School and Beaufort High School.
- Additional parking for the boat ramp.
Fully understanding everyone is struggling to make ends meet and money is tight but if asked to dream, why not include some of the above in our vision for the future Lady’s Island..