18 Jan Where’s the Balance – A Letter from Gordon Fritz and My Reply
Fortunately, I frequently receive letters and emails from constituents and others who do not live in the City but love Beaufort as many of us do. I normally read and respond. When Gordon Fritz wrote a couple of weeks ago, I knew I would share his thoughtful and important message. However, it took me longer than I anticipated to publish his letter and my response. Because I knew he was right, I did not want to write a quick “politically correct” response and regrettably not have all of the answers. His message is from the heart and straightforward. The answers are complicated and involve more than the City, yet deserve a respectful response.
New Subdivision on Ladys Island
New Subdivision in The City of Beaufort
Letter from my friend Gordon Fritz
I thoroughly enjoy your newsletters and appreciate your keeping us updated on the many changes occurring here in Beaufort. It is a wonderful role you have assumed as Mayor and I hope it is continued by the Beaufort Mayors as we go forward.
NOT ALL CHANGE, HOWEVER, IS GOOD! There are things occurring in Beaufort and throughout Beaufort County that are impacting our community is such a way as to turn it into “ANYWHERE USA.” Beaufort has earned the distinction of being a very special place to retire, live, visit and enjoy. These accolades have been published numerous times in national publications over the years. We all take pride in these recognitions. We all appreciate how fortunate we are to live here. Beaufort is indeed a very special place to live. WHY? Well we could make a long list which would include our access to clean rivers and creeks and the recreational boating and the fishing they provide. Additionally, our closeness to the ocean, the wonderful unpolluted air we breath and the congenial grouping of a wide diversity of inhabitants (called “Beaufortonians”) must all included on the list. We are a coastal community with among many things our values in the arts, community activities and the safety and good educational opportunities for our youth. We are big enough so as to be cosmopolitan but small enough to enjoy each other and our private moments.
A very important item on our list and one that was instrumental in attracting each of us to Beaufort is our MARITIME ENVIRONMENT.
This includes our mild weather with the snow free winters and the delightfully mild spring and fall coolness as well as our warm summer beach weather. We should also include the wild animals that are naturally found here along with the accompanying plant communities. It is this segment of the Beaufort environment that helps make Beaufort such a wonderful place to live and which makes Beaufort different from most of the other towns and cities in the Southeast; and it is coming under attack by forces more interested in monetary profits than maintaining and preserving our extraordinary Beaufort character.
Let me give you but a few examples to which I am alluding:
Recently a Georgia logging enterprise convinces two Ladys Island landowners to clear cut two ten acre parcels. These areas were denuded of all living vegetation and no cleanup was undertaken nor was there any effort to replant the forest. I learned that this was legal because some time ago there were state level laws (lobbied by the logging industry) circumventing any local laws which allowed the timbering of land in this irresponsible manor to support the profits of the logging companies. It really doesn’t matter that both Beaufort County and the City of Beaufort have laws to keep this rape of our environment from occurring.
But this was only the beginning. On a tract of land annexed into the City of Beaufort, our new Publix grocery store was to be located on Ladys Island across from its previous location. I watched in shock and amazement as the dozers began to remove the mature forest that existed on the property. Not a tree was spared except for a few along the outside edge of the parcel. This included the removal of a very large magnolia, which could have been preserved within the parking spaces. I was told following my inquiry (after the fact) that it was permitted because there had to be many storm water pipes and drainage corridors created for the site. Billy, I don’t believe this. I can see no evidence of such installations. Furthermore, if such things were required, Why could the engineers and architects not have tried to preserve at least a small portion of the natural forest and to comply as much as possible with the existing Beaufort City tree ordinance? My guess is that it was cheaper to develop the location by cutting everything down and planting 2-inch saplings around the parking lot. The problem with this is that we get a huge paved parking lot with no shade or natural habitat for the naturally occurring wildlife. We now get to watch the two-inch saplings grow over the next 100 years to finally replace what we have lost. I see this as just another sacrifice in the name of progress to preserve the profits of a few at the expense of the rest of us.
There is more. The old Publix location has been sold and a new Kroger is said to be coming. The numerous trees, saved a decade ago when Publix first built here on Ladys Island, have all been marked with surveyors tape as well as those located on the triangular property behind the existing building. I understand that the old store will be demolished and that a large shopping center is to be built on the entire parcel. This will undoubtedly require the removal of most or all of the tree cover, which includes several very large live oaks. This parcel has also been annexed into the City of Beaufort and we may lose again part of our maritime forest. Will this tract also require extensive storm water drains and pipes?
I am saddened to report that it does not stop here. We have a new Wal-Mart scheduled to be built next to the Ladys Island Airport. I don’t think I have to say anything about what will happen to this location as evidenced by the Wal-Mart location on the other side of town. We Beaufortonians are again going to have to absorb the abuse to our environment in the interest of the profits of another outside company for the sake of progress.
As a final example, and there are many more that I could list, let me tell you of the most recent atrocity. Drive down Sams Point Road about a mile from the Publix stores and look to your left. You will see a huge new scar of 40 or more acres. This is the newest contribution to our wonderful Beaufort community by the DR Horton Construction Company and their subsidiary the Lather Construction (Site Preparation) Company. Horton’s tag line is America’s Largest Home Builder. This may be true and they are doing their best to make Beaufort like every other bland and featureless community in America. They are large enough and have the political influence and power to bypass our local laws and go through DHEC for special permission to remove all the vegetation from the site and then in an effort to reduce their development cost again, to further evade the laws found in the National Clean Air Act and burn the resulting refuge onsite (for six days and counting). We are going to get a large subdivision with paved streets and lots of lawns without a single mature tree. This site was covered with a mature maritime forest as is evidenced by the adjoining property. Nothing remains. We will have to wait another century for the small sapling they will plant before we get anything resembling a green environment. Rape is too gentle a word to describe what is being done to Beaufort by these supposed harbingers of progress.
I believe that it is the responsibility of every person living in Beaufort to take a stand on this issue. I believe that there will be an overwhelming number of us who find this progress unacceptable and will demand that our politicians do a better job of protecting the things that make Beaufort the great place it has become. I am not against progress. I welcome smart growth. Growth that recognizes local standards and values. Growth for more than providing increased profits to often-absentee participants.
I would like to see this email published in your next newsletter. We need to all start to think about what undesirable change can do to our community. Beaufort is a wonderful exception to the general rule. Let’s don’t loose it.
My Response to Gordon:
Gordon Fritz is Right: Thanks for the Wake Up Call
I appreciate the kind personal words. I also hear and share much of your concern about seemingly uncontrolled growth and its adverse impact.
As a city we face a delicate balance between protecting the past and encouraging a future — change can be good and growth can be good, if done within the context of our Lowcountry character and values. Clear cutting does not fit this category. Sometimes those values can’t legally be put into ordinances, and sometimes developers make decisions for the bottom line and not for the long-term good of the local community. Others, however, take great care to protect the Lowcountry. Property rights vs the common good can be a difficult challenge.
I don’t like seeing tress coming down. But the question is not what I like or dislike because ordinances that drive decisions are the product of many councils over a period of years.
If nothing else, reading your letter many times and seeing how it has moved the community, I have decided I am ready to move forward on the City’s Parks and Trees Advisory Commission recommendation for a tighter tree ordinance that will require stronger measures for mitigation not the least of which will provide financial resources for replacing trees in our city. I am not sure the measure will save many trees from the bulldozers, but know the funding for mitigation will create a means for establishing more trees in both private and public places.
I have heretofore been reluctant to vote for this proposal for fear that such would drive up the cost for development, but your letter reminds me of the costs the community pays when we lose trees and challenge it poses to the character of our city.
I love Beaufort, its hometown character and natural environment, as do you and most who grew up here along with the many who have come to make this their home.
I cannot think of one day, during the 26 years I was away, that I did not wake up longing to be back on the Beaufort River I have loved since childhood. I was first away at school and then for a career because there were not then and not now jobs for many natives who would like to be able to live in their hometown. There are also the many who did not go away and paid a high price by being underemployed because they did not want to leave the creeks, rivers and woods and the unique lifestyle celebrated in Beaufort for years.
While the central theme to your letter is better-managed growth with a higher respect for our natural resources, you covered a broad range of issues controlled by multiple governmental jurisdictions, diverse decision makers and private sector stakeholders mostly on Ladys Island. The most heinous is residential including new subdivisions none of which are in the city and would likely not be allowed to decimate some of our beautiful land.
In recent weeks, I have heard from not a small number of Ladys Island residents about what appears to be unbridled residential growth and a nagging distaste for big box and chain stores that follow.
I understand and sympathize with what they are saying; but from my prior experience working in commercial real estate, I know that large national companies do not blindly look at maps to site a new location. Rather, they engage comprehensive market studies about the demographics of an area, they determine the numbers of current and projected roof tops, the disposable income of the residents, the traffic patterns to schools and to and from work, while identifying voids in services not provided in defined in the study areas. This is to say that Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, Harris Teeter and others that will likely join the queue of businesses locating on Ladys Island are coming because they are following the people who have moved to Ladys Island and established a market for their products. This is to say that the more people who move to Lady’s Island and St Helena, the more new retail will follow.
It is not the role of government to pick winners and losers, to permit one kind of business and not another. That is the role of the free market.
That said, development guidelines and zoning do have an impact once a site is selected. The city of Beaufort has our strategy and procedures. The county has theirs. Each has differing procedures for residential and commercial though both parties are working to bring them closer together.
Fortunately, with few exceptions, the proposed pattern of growth for the City of Beaufort is through infill and redevelopment as it is more culturally, environmentally and fiscally sustainable. We have little room for new large subdivisions without new annexations, which I do not foresee in the immediate future, the challenges of Ladys Island should not be replicated in the city other than the commercial developments along highway 21 which are driven by those who live outside of the city.
Furthermore, at every opportunity we can find, we work with partners to open up the vistas that are signatures to lowcountry living. For example, as we move forward with the Boundary Street Redevelopment hand in hand with Beaufort County and the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, we will do our best to remove dead properties (vacant and abandoned) and relocate viable businesses to open up the vista creating a passive park so that when one enters our great city, he or she will no longer think we are another Anywhere, USA.
That said, commercial development poses a different set of challenges from residential. When the market demands large retail centers, there is little way to save large numbers of trees because of the large footprint of the building, the large (“free parking”) lots and the necessary infrastructure like the underground storm water system at Publix. In cases like that we can require mitigation on site, as we have done, but it takes years for trees to mature and blend in with the new structures.
Change is not easy. But a new wave of preservation is welcome and whether or not one agrees, it is good for discussion and education.
Thank you Gordon for taking the time and interest to share your thoughtful letter to me and to the public.