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Lowcountry governments have to work together to encourage commercial developers to be more environmentally friendly, or the area might lose the natural beauty that attracts so many to the area, the Lowcountry Economic Network said.
"We have to all go green and function and plan as a region," said John Thomas, president of Sustainable Design Consultants Inc. of Bluffton. "If we want to change the pattern of development, the regulations have to be in place. If we don't start now, the region will be destroyed."
Representatives from Beaufort and Jasper counties, Beaufort, Hardeeville, Bluffton and Yemassee planning departments met Thursday at the Technical College of the Lowcountry campus in Bluffton to discuss policy changes that can promote "green" commercial development.
The Lowcountry Economic Network hosted the meeting. The goal is to promote the Lowcountry as "the greenest place in the country" and to ensure eco-friendly development.
"Businesses like to be in green space," said Kim Statler, executive director. "We love anything green. We think it's the next generation."
The network encourages commercial developers to get Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Energy Star certifications, and to build higher-density and mixed-use buildings that are multi-stories.
Municipalities can promote those green incentives by streamlining the application process, reducing the property tax if a building is LEED certified, changing zoning or expediting the review process.
Bob Pinkerton, the chairman of the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission, said the big question for Beaufort is whether the city should invest money and political capital into providing green building incentives.
"My heart says green is good, but I have to find out the dollars and cents of it," he said, "What everyone wants is different. We have to figure out what Beaufort wants. The city needs to be able to justify the benefit of the programs."
Municipalities also can reduce impact fees, but that might scare some local governments because they fought hard to pass the fees, Statler said.
"At the local level, if I heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times," she said, referring to how impact fees discourage building. "Our impact fees are out of control."
For example, the school impact fee in South Carolina is $5,182 for property valued at $200,000. Beaufort and Port Royal are considering fire impact fees.
There are no pro-green policies in any Lowcountry municipality, Statler said. However, Beaufort County is working to promote LEED incentives and other zoning changes, said Delores Frazier, assistant planning director in Beaufort County.
The Lowcountry Economic Network plans to develop regional standards for green development. It hopes to bring the same group back for a discussion on the standards within a few weeks.