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Plans to expand the downtown marina took a step forward Tuesday night.
Beaufort City Council granted initial approval -- on a 4-to-1 vote with Councilman George O'Kelley Jr. opposed -- to adopt a conceptual plan to expand dock and water sports facilities at the Downtown Beaufort Marina.
"If we don't do something... to tie the water back to the mainland and the center of our hometown we are missing just a huge, huge opportunity," Mayor Billy Keyserling said at Tuesday's council meeting.
A second and final vote is expected Oct. 23. If approved, the proposal would be incorporated into the city's master plan.
The proposal has three main components:
O'Kelley said he withheld his vote not because he does not approve of the concept, but because he does not agree with building the water sports center in the marina parking lot. He was concerned the concept could become reality too quickly.
Councilman Mike McFee said he supports the intent of the plan to make the downtown more vibrant and economically sustainable by giving residents and visitors access to the water. He also is leery of the water sports center, but said no building would be constructed without several layers of design and city council review.
Councilman Mike Sutton said it is important to bring the city closer to the water and include the proposal in the city's master plan so that opportunities -- like a developer interested in building the water sports center -- are seized as they arise.
"We're adding a piece into the bigger picture so the councils of the future and the citizens of the future who decide to invest in our city will have a road map of what it might be," he said.
Several downtown business owners support the plan because they believe it will help the economy. Tourism Management Advisory Committee Chairman Charlie Williams, Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce executive director Blakely Williams and Main Street Beaufort USA board director Chip Dinkins also said their organizations support the concept.
Jeff Evans, former chairman of the Tourism Development Advisory Committee, believes the water sports center would be designed to fit into its surroundings and the historic district. He said the plan is a way to start the process of adding amenities to the waterfront.
"I know that everyone is concerned about what Beaufort is going to look like ... when the day dock comes in, and I think more about what Beaufort is going to look like 20, 30 years from now," he said.
Some residents continued to voice reservations.
Polly Swenson said she was not opposed but felt the plan was premature. She would like to see a business proposal and a feasibility study before anything is approved.
"In some ways I don't think this concept is ready for prime time or enshrinement in city law," she said.
Edie Rodgers, an outspoken opponent of the project, continued to speak against it Tuesday. She has repeatedly said other locations should be considered for the amenities.
"I predict city taxpayers will forever subsidize this project and I'm going to name it Billy's folly,"
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.
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Proposal for day dock, downtown marina improvements heads to Beaufort City Council for approval, Sept. 6, 2012