Parking Garage?

22 Aug Parking Garage?

A private developer announced plans to build and finance a private parking garage in downtown Beaufort. That is a good thing!

The Historic (District) Review Board (HRB) voted to support the project “conceptually” though the outlying issue of architectural design is no small challenge.

The proposal meets the City’s zoning requirements and it does not propose to demolish historic structures.

“Final approval” by the HRB will require design specifics of how a structure with a 44,000 square foot footprint “fits” in the Historic Landmark District.

Large parking structures have been made to fit in other Historic Landmark Districts,  and, if designers are creatively respectful of what surrounds the area, I think it can be done here.

Beaufort’s Civic Master Plan points to the site as a suitable place for a large parking garage, though it suggests a garage should be surrounded by liner buildings that visually connect to surrounding buildings.

However, the CMP is the vision and not the law. The property owner has rights to proceed without liner buildings because it is not the law and his consultant says that “there is not adequate space and the costs prohibitive.”

If the city were building the garage we would try to realize the vision, including liner buildings that we passed with public support.

But, this issue is not about my likes and dislikes and it is not about the City building a garage. That said, the issue is about the project meeting current zoning requirements, which it does.

The developer’s primary goal is to create adequate parking for his customers and staff as he expands his hospitality businesses. While this benefits other existing businesses and the City, the developer is careful to say that he has no illusions that he will satisfy the City’s parking needs. Though he has indicated that he will offer public parking until such time as he needs the entire space.

Furthermore, he indicated that he could add an additional level creating about 135 spaces for the City. Since that will require an even taller building, I am not sure it would be the best solution as design challenges are big enough with what is be considered. His representative will make a proposal to the Chairman of the City Redevelopment Commission and the City Manager in the near future. City Council will study and consider the offer but I think it fair to say that the structure will have enough design challenges without adding an additional floor increasing the mass and scale of the structure.

What about the Penny Sales Tax to Pay for a Public Garage?

Funding for a parking garage and improvements/expansion of the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, among other county wide capital needs, not the least of which is communications equipment for all law enforcement agencies, will be considered on the November 8th penny capital sales tax referendum. I will vote for this measure and ask that all county residents study the county’s overall capital needs and consider supporting the ballot measure when you vote.

In the event the referendum passes, there are other sites that are suitable for smaller structures on city owned property.

Reading reports, letters to the editor and Facebook comments, it appears that there are many who want this garage to be approved while others do not. It is a healthy conversation.

The ball is in play and in the hands of the developer’s design experts and the members of the Historic Review Board. They heard from the public at their first meeting and will do so at subsequent meetings. Furthermore, people can submit comments to the HRB.

In closing, let me again be clear that I support the parking garage and am grateful that the private sector investor/developer has come forth.

That being said, I hope that the designers are able to establish a larger setback from Craven Street, thereby respecting important historic structures like the Tabernacle Church. Doing so could make room for a small linear park, perhaps an historically themed park with significant mature landscaping, tells  parts of our city’s history, and softens the blunt impact of a block long building on Craven Street.

Stay tuned and engaged. This is an important venture to which the community owes a serious conversation and collaborative thinking.