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Four-hundred pages of form-based code guidelines won't go down as smoothly as a Pat Conroy novel, but those with an abiding interest in Beaufort -- particularly those interested in historic preservation -- should find the time to read the document that will shape the city's growth and redevelopment for years to come.
The guidelines, which county consultant Opticos created with input from residents, elected officials and planners, has been reviewed by city employees. Now, community members with expertise in development, planning, construction and related fields will be enlisted for the final edit. That process will include a block-by-block review to make sure the code fits each area of the city.
Craig Lewis of the city's Office of Civic Investment has proposed a task force of 12 to 16 members to meet weekly for about six months "to provide the meat-and-potatoes edits." The deadline to apply for the committee is June 14.
A form-based code focuses more on a property's appearance than traditional zoning, which tends to focus on how a property will be used.
"We want to make sure when it gets to the level of adoption and the public, that we're not trying to hide anything," Lewis said. "We've got 400 pages. We're not intending to hide things, but things get buried."
Indeed, a form-based code is likely to succeed only if the public is confident technocrats have not hidden an agenda inside a Byzantine rule book. But additional input from the public advances more than what policy wonks and political types like to call "buy-in." This advisory committee provides a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace opportunity to shape policy that will have tangible results.
Historic preservation advocates recently found themselves on the outside looking in when two properties were moved into a Bladen Street district, where Historic Design Review Committee approval is not required for new construction, as it is in other parts of the historic district. Structures as tall as 55 feet could be built there.
When preservationists raised objections, Mayor Billy Keyserling asked where they were 11 months ago, when the two properties were first considered for inclusion in the Bladen Street district. In fact, he went so far as to suggest the former Historic Beaufort Foundation board chairman was asleep at the wheel as this matter was discussed.
Keyserling apologized for the remark, but even if his comment was too sharp, his point is applicable to the form-based code, too: The city has provided fair warning and an opportunity for input; now is the time for those who care about such matters to be wide awake.