Written by Charlie Wetmore
ot so long ago Bluffton consisted of one neighborhood – Old Town. We had our 1,000 or so residents in the original square mile of town and that was it. That was in the year 2000.
It’s amazing how things have changed in a mere eight years. Now we have somewhere around 15,000 residents in our town and many more than one neighborhood. For example: I live in Pine Ridge – a community of 311 homes off of Buckwalter Parkway. We have somewhere around 900 residents in our community alone. Think about that – almost as many people live in Pine Ridge as lived in the entire original town only eight years ago.
When it is finished, the Buckwalter Tract will have around 8,000 homes and a lot of commercial space (that does not include at least 1,500 homes along Buckwalter that are not in the town of Bluffton). This is a series of new neighborhoods that have been planned from scratch through the use of Development Agreements. These are documents that guide what can be built where. Because no development existed in this area before, the people who live in the area pretty much understand what it will look like when they buy a house and move into it. There are very few surprises to those who live in this area. The Palmetto Bluff, Jones Tract and other areas of town are also guided by Development Agreements that oversee their growth.
In contrast, we have other areas in our town that are not guided by these agreements. As the town grows and changes, we find developers buying small pieces of property in these areas and wanting to develop them in ways that may or may not be good for that particular community. Town Staff and Council (of which I am a member) can make educated guesses as to what is best for development (or non-development) of an area. This is what most towns do. We have decided to handle it differently in Bluffton though. We want to hear from town and neighborhood residents as to what they want to see in their neighborhoods.
Our first foray into this was the development of the Old Town Master Plan. We held community meetings (Charrettes) to hear what the residents wanted to see in Old Town. We developed a plan based on that input that now guides what can and what cannot be done there. It has resulted in a streetscape project and new zoning guidelines that protect what the residents want that area of town to look like.
We still have neighborhoods that should have this kind of guidance and protection. Probably the biggest would be the Buck Island/Simmonsville Road neighborhood. This is an area that was annexed into town in 2005 and is an area with a lot of different landowners. At this point we have no clear direction as to what the community would like to see. Do they want to see Commercial? Multi-Family? Single Family? Agricultural? Something else?
In April of this year, Town Council directed staff to begin the process of developing a neighborhood plan for the Buck Island/Simmonsville Road area. More and more developers had been approaching the town with plans for properties there and it was felt that we really needed to know what the residents wanted. In May, a meeting was held with community leaders and a plan was crafted for a series of meetings in June that would find out and incorporate what the residents of the area wanted to see (or not see). Throughout the month of June, these meetings happened. The Town of Bluffton did one major thing – they listened. In July, they are taking what they heard and developing it into a plan that will then be brought back to the community for approval.
Did the town have to do this? No. Was it the right thing to do? Yes.
The most likely area to be addressed next is the Goethe Road area. Then we will seek out other areas that might not have overall development guidelines so that, when we see plans for something new, we know if the residents of that particular area even want us to consider it. To me, this is another example of what it means to truly represent what the people of this town want.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns at:
Council Member, Town of Bluffton