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Boats aren't the issue. Cooperation in managing growth is.
That should be the mindset as a regional planning board considers a request for Barrier Island Marine to set up a boat sales and repair business in the old Beaufort Glass building on Robert Smalls Parkway near Beaufort.
The exercise is the first major test for the forward-thinking concept of "growth boundaries," established in 2009 by the city of Beaufort and town of Port Royal to rein in annexation wars.
The test involves the potential for annexation, rezoning, a change to the growth boundaries and establishing a procedure for how all of that is to be publicly considered.
The growth boundaries stem from the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan. They define where Beaufort and Port Royal can grow. The mutually agreed-upon boundaries are a means to common-sense development. The aim is to stop zoning shopping between jurisdictions, allowing developers to play one local government against another. The boundaries force a look at how development affects Beaufort County and the two municipalities.
But now comes a request to change the growth boundaries to accommodate what is in effect a zoning change. The location in question is in the unincorporated county, where zoning would prohibit the boating business. While a county rezoning is an option, so is annexing into one of the municipalities; both have zoning that would allow the boating business. Annexing into Port Royal, which apparently is more likely than annexing into Beaufort, requires changing the growth boundaries.
The Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission will consider the ramifications of redrawing the boundaries at its Feb. 18 meeting. Representatives of the municipalities are in accord on the proposed change.
The public benefits from that cooperation. But the public also needs an open, clearly prescribed procedure for allowing changes to a building down the street. Annexation seems a cumbersome way to make this change, and the public notice and public hearings that are part of zoning changes also ought to be part of the procedure to change growth boundaries.
Such changes should be the rarest of exceptions and not a substitute for routine, lot-by-lot zoning considerations.
What's important is the big picture. The concept of regional planning, and the establishment of growth boundaries to make that happen, took many years to accomplish. That -- along with a severe economic downturn -- put a big dent in zoning shopping by annexation and the resulting annexation wars. The important goal today is to preserve and enhance logical, cooperative, regional growth control that the community at large worked so hard to achieve.