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Participants discussed what they like, what they don't and a vision for the future at the first of a months-long series of public workshops focused on how Beaufort's downtown and surrounding neighborhoods should redevelop and grow.
More than 55 people filled seats in an unfinished portion of City Hall to hear a brief overview of the city's new Office of Civic Investment -- the group leading the effort -- and then broke into small groups to discuss issues such as infrastructure, civic spaces, housing, commercial spaces, workplaces and entertainment.
Individuals with a clear stake in redevelopment efforts -- city officials, developers, various nonprofit organization representatives and other community leaders -- filled many seats at the workshop.
But neighborhood association members and other residents also showed up in force.
"They want to get the community involved, which I think they should," James Irby, a Beaufort resident and local pastor, said after the meeting. " A lot of the good ideas will come from residents."
City officials agree.
"The plan is only going to be good if people invest the time and energy," Mayor Billy Keyserling said after the meeting. "We had a great turnout tonight and heard some really good ideas. To sustain it over time will be the challenge."
Spearheaded by a team of consultants hired last year, the Office of Civic Investment will spend the next two years completing what they are calling a civic master-planning process, Josh Martin, one of those consultants who is working full-time on the project, told participants Thursday.
The team broke Beaufort into five "sectors" and expects to create multiple neighborhood-level strategic plans that go lot-by-lot through the city. A final civic master plan will establish standards for public and private development, the team has said.
Consultants dubbed areas east of Ribaut Road -- including downtown, The Point, the Old Commons, the Bluff, the Northwest Quadrant, Dixon Village, Pigeon Point, uptown Beaufort, Whitehall and Higginsonville -- the first sector and will focus on those locations for the next three months, Martin said.
The first meeting was geared toward neighborhood associations and residents.
Subsequent meetings will target the development community, nonprofit organizations and Beaufort's Redevelopment Commission.
Participants broke into four groups, each focused on different areas of the first sector, and talked for about an hour.
Some common themes emerged, from wanting to preserve tree canopies and increase walk-ability to maintaining existing character and streamlining lighting throughout neighborhoods, among other things.
Each group presented its thoughts, which eventually will be posted on the office's website, Martin said.
The group will host a series of public meetings leading up to a week-long series of workshops known as a charrette, where it will form its recommendations for a strategic plan.
Officials want to have public input before the charrette so it can sort through ideas, refine the vision and look at specific ways to achieve goals, Martin said