Monday, January 25, 2010

All Sembler questions will be answered next week, but so far, so good

Bluffton Today

After a tough week in Columbia, it is a relief to have some good news for our area. The Beaufort-Jasper- Hampton Comprehensive Health Services Center in Ridgeland is the beneficiary of a lot of hard work that your representative and your delegation put in last year on the state facilities improvement program.

We brought home (I like to call it “repatriating”) more than 8 million of your dollars to refit this highly and efficiently utilized facility. This will broaden the community health outreach to some of our most vulnerable citizens, especially in these tough times. In addition, the return on the investment of these dollars is huge in economic terms as well as the quality of life of those served.

The repatriation of these dollars is one of the reasons I worked so diligently to be assigned to the Ways and Means Committee. Our needs across the board are receiving a much fairer hearing since this assignment.

I met last week with my friend, Jerry Stewart, the Sun City representative on the Beaufort County Council. We both have been hearing a great deal from you on the Sembler matter. Being in the development business, I am more than passing familiar with what separates the outfits we want to work in our neighborhoods, and those that we might want to discourage.

In the Lowcountry, the first thing I look for is a solid stormwater management plan. What I try to encourage is that projects keep all their runoff on their site. When they tell me that’s impossible, it’s a red flag. I know it to be possible, because that is what we did at the Promenade, my last project in Old Town Bluffton.

I asked for and received the Sembler stormwater plan last week and have been going over it, as well as sharing it with folks whose opinions I value in these things. So far, I’m pretty impressed. They have seen the latest Colleton-Okatie studies and are making a good effort to respect the sanctity of this natural treasure.

Incidentally, I also requested the stormwater plan for the redo of the Tanger outlet off U.S. 278 in Bluffton. So far, they have not made it available, but hope to in the near future. You may remember there were some problems with the original Tanger construction relative to Sawmill Creek, which is a tributary of the Colleton-Okatie. Beaufort County, however, currently has a much more effective oversight than when the original outlet was built.

In truth, my decision on the incentive package for Sembler will depend a great deal on how they present it to County Council this week. Whether Chairman Newton and his council colleagues are either more or less adamantly opposed to the project after the presentation will certainly make a difference to me. In the meantime, I plan to make a visit (on my own dime) to one of the Sembler flagship properties in Orlando this weekend. Seeing what they have done there will help me understand what they can potentially do here. One way or other, next Monday in this space you will hear something definitive from me.

One aspect of the extended conversations I have had with numerous Sembler officials has to do with a potential relationship between the developer and the S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation folks. Providing employment opportunities for workers helped by the state rehab effort is certainly not going to turn the debate, but it may give us an idea of whom we are dealing with.