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Despite preliminary approval of a neighborhood plan to guide growth in the Buck Island-Simmonsville road neighborhood, residents remained divided on what form that growth should take.
Those sitting on a small steering committee that helped create the neighborhood plan continue to oppose all commercial development in the area, including a plan to build the Old Carolina Shopping Center at the northeast corner of the intersection of Buck Island Road and Bluffton Parkway.
The steering committee, which saw the neighborhood plan approved by the Bluffton Planning Commission on Wednesday night, opposes commercial development in the "core" of the community.
"The BIS (Buck Island-Simmonsville) plan we just approved clearly stated no commercial development," planning commission member Carletha Frazier, who also sits on the steering committee, said Wednesday.
But another planning commission member said the site of the project is actually on the edge of the neighborhood, whose boundaries were artificially created when the land was annexed into Bluffton several years ago.
"I do not consider Old Carolina to be in the core of the neighborhood -- geographically or spiritually or any other way," planning commission member Emmett McCracken said. "... In the grand scheme of things, I don't think this (project) is doing too much violence to the plan."
The Old Carolina Shopping Center is at the heart of that disagreement.
Developer Wilbert Roller initially wanted to build 145,000 square feet of commercial and residential space and sought a zoning change from residential to commercial use for the 21.4-acre site.
The project already has been before the planning commission and the town's negotiating committee, which is responsible for negotiating development agreements. In January, that committee voted 3-2 to oppose commercial development for the site. The members who voted in favor of commercial development asked that the plans be scaled-down.
On Wednesday, architect Michael Kronimus presented those scaled-down plans that would allow Roller to build a 46,615-foot "anchor" building -- likely a grocery store -- and about a dozen smaller, "cottage-like" buildings for individual merchants. The size of the project was reduced to 103,000 square feel of commercial space.
"We've reduced the size and the scale," Kronimus said. "We'll have a public park. We have massive wetlands. We've isolated the big box to the back -- we've pushed it into the woods so you can't see it from the (Bluffton) Parkway. ... The intent is to make it look like a residential project."
Planning commission member Don Blair, who also sits on the negotiating committee and had recommended the scaled-down project in January, said Wednesday the "cottage" commercial space was reminiscent of Calhoun Street in the town's historic district.
"They should look like houses that people can put businesses in," he said.
Kronimus said he will bring the plans back to the planning commission next month, when the group will make a recommendation whether to allow commercial development on the site. The recommendation then must be approved by town council.
In the past, residents opposing development have said they are concerned about quality of life and public safety issues. They have said commercial projects would add more congestion to the busy two-lane roads. A new middle school and a 199-unit apartment complex also are being built along Buck Island Road, which has no sidewalks.
Officials have told residents that such development is necessary to generate the revenue needed to build the sewers, sidewalks and improved drainage systems they have demanded.
A separate commercial project, Buck Island Square, was originally proposed for the opposite corner of the intersection. That project's developer, Frank Fotia, withdrew his application for commercial space and is instead planning to develop a mobile home park, Kronimus said. New plans for that site are not yet complete, Kronimus' assistant said in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon.