BEAUFORT, S.C. (Sept. 21, 2023) – Beaufort City Council is considering several amendments to the Beaufort Development Code, which was adopted in 2017 to regulate development in the City of Beaufort within the parameters of a form-based code. Among the most prominent would be the establishment of a City-only Planning Commission. The new Planning Commission would assume the current approval authority vested by the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) for permitted development in the City. The new Planning Commission would also absorb the review and approval authority vested by the City’s current Design Review Board.
Currently, the MPC has six members, two members each from the City of Beaufort, the Town of Port Royal, and Beaufort County.
Amendments to the Beaufort Development Code must be heard by the MPC, followed by a Public Hearing and formal consideration by City Council in two readings of an enabling ordinance.
During a June 20 Work Session devoted to reviewing proposed changes to the Beaufort Code, City Council provided feedback to staff concerning these changes, including the Planning Commission. The MPC then heard and considered the changes during its July 17 meeting.
City Council held a Public Hearing and First Reading at its Regular Meeting on Sept. 12. The changes were approved unanimously by City Council during this meeting, with a request for minor, non-substantive amendments prior to second reading. A second and final reading will follow in a subsequent regularly scheduled City Council meeting, which is likely to be Tuesday, Sept. 26.
Rationale for a City Planning Commission
The individual development codes of the three appointing jurisdictions of the MPC – the City of Beaufort, the Town of Port Royal, and Beaufort County – are long and complicated, and the members of the MPC must be familiar with each. Very few development projects from Beaufort County come before the MPC since Beaufort County has its own Planning Commission.
When the MPC was established, part of its mission was to resolve annexation issues between the three jurisdictions. Since then, the adoption of the Northern Regional Beaufort County Plan has resolved many of these issues.
“As Beaufort grows, it would benefit the City to have its own Planning Commission composed of Beaufort residents, and devoted to reviewing projects within City limits,” said Curt Freese, the City’s Director of Community Development. “A City Planning Commission would allow members to focus exclusively on the Beaufort Code.”
By absorbing the responsibilities of the Design Review Board, a single Beaufort Planning Commission would streamline and simplify the approval process for developers and property owners, some of whom have regarded the current process as cumbersome and lengthy.
Membership and initial appointment process
Membership of the new commission would be limited to those who live in or own businesses in the City of Beaufort. All seven members would be appointed by City Council, with four of the seven members to have licensure and expertise in the fields of planning, architecture, landscape architecture, law, engineering or building contracting.
Members would be appointed to staggered terms, so that in any given year, there would be two new appointments or reappointments to the Planning Commission.
“We anticipate that City Council will make appointments to the new Planning Commission a priority," said City Manager Scott Marshall. “The Planning Commission has an integral role in our current examination of development code text edits. Swift appointments will help us maintain momentum with the process of amending our code."
All current review and approval authorities vested by the MPC and the Design Review Board would be transferred to the new Planning Commission. The various responsibilities would include, but not necessarily be limited to:
- Recommend and approve the majority of the land use decisions for the City, including annexations and rezonings.
- Review and approve/deny major subdivision sketch plans.
- Review, approve/deny major site plans.
- Review recommended changes/amendments to the Beaufort Development Code.
- Approve/deny commercial and multi-family site plans.
- Review the City’s Comprehensive Plan, with final approval granted by City Council.
What happens to the Metropolitan Planning Commission?
The continued utility of the MPC would be examined in conjunction with the City’s partner organizations, Beaufort County and the Town of Port Royal. The future role of the MPC, if any, would be determined after the examination.
Efficiencies and transparency
Combined with other code amendments, such as review authority for certain types of development, a board that combines the authorities of the Design Review Board and Metropolitan Planning Commission would create a more efficient and transparent process for citizens, staff, developers, and landowners.
As part of the desire for more transparency, some of the administrative review and approval authorities granted to City of Beaufort planning staff would be transferred to the new Planning Commission, such as approval of all commercial development and lowering the multi-unit threshold requiring discretionary board review. These types of changes provide greater opportunity for citizen and other stakeholder involvement in the review and approval of land use in the City.