Wednesday, November 20, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Many thanks for all the good comments on last week’s column. The Waddell event and all that was said about it seems to validate my position that this state facility is of great importance to the local economy. Friends of Waddell is also a great adjunct to the facility which should allow Al Stokes and company to expand some of the offerings on the property. I’m hoping we can get some trails blazed, and perhaps some camp sites and other amenities. These will not only be a fine addition to our visitor possibilities, but they might well provide some potential revenue above what we can allocate from the state.

On the local scene, a lot seems to be about the Old Town. The election was almost a referendum on how the town has handled the quality-of-life issues raised when the bar scene cranked up this summer. Obviously this is a difficult issue and opinions are quickly hardening. This evening at 6, there will be a workshop in the auditorium of town hall to allow staff and Planning Commission to review the recently completed noise survey, as well as to solicit feedback and recommendations from the community. I hope that we will have an overflow crowd for this important meeting. The fact is that controlling noise in a historic area with older structures that may not be well insulated for sound is difficult. It is made more difficult by the level of expectation that the residents in the Historic District have with regard to, not only the noise, but the increased impact of having lots of late- night strangers wandering the streets, perhaps looking for where they may have left their cars.
Having said that, I am convinced that the more of us that participate in the conversation, the better chance we have of coming up with a good solution, or at least something that everyone will be equally unhappy with.

There was something that newly elected councilman Larry Toomer said during one of the candidate forums, something to the effect that “if we had known how loud they would be (meaning the bars), we probably wouldn’t have permitted them.” The fact is that they were permitted, and dollars have been invested because of those permits. We are just going to have to work it out. If two bars have created so much criticism and complaint, imagine four or six bars.

One of the advantages we had in designing the Promenade was that we threw it open early in the process for public comment during many, many workshops. Not only was it an opportunity for folks to throw rocks at me, it was also a chance for my team to see what people wanted, where they wanted it, and what expectations they might have about any impacts. As much as I don’t enjoy being pelted with rocks, rhetorical or otherwise, what we received in public comment was what is now referred to as crowd-source wisdom. Not only did we heed advise about our stormwater system, which is among the best in the state, but we also heard how the community wanted a place for larger crowds to gather, often for civic and charity events, and how they wanted bars and restaurants that were lively, but not a threat to public order. Even the oval configuration of the layout of buildings assured that any noise would be largely contained, like our stormwater, on the property.

Friends, please show up at the town hall tonight for the noise workshop. Remember that all of us are neighbors, who will still be neighbors long after this conflict is resolved. Please be respectful and neighborly. One day, this will all be another of those outlandish Bluffton stories, like the one where the mayor dressed up like a buzzard and rode atop the town garbage truck during the Christmas parade.