Political tensions mount over Bladen Street Redevelopment District

The Bladen Street reconstruction area.

Beaufort's city leaders pushed for the Bladen Street Redevelopment District as way to transform a long neglected part of downtown into an area with vibrant business and pedestrian interaction that is more akin to Bay Street than Boundary Street. 

To do that they adopted the rules of the redevelopment district that focus on building appearance over building use and in exchange the city allowed developers to bypass some review boards, namely the Historic Design Review Committee. 

Concerns have flared every time a property has been added to the redevelopment district that rampant non-characteristic development could run amok, jeopardizing the Downtown Historic District designation. 

(Not that the prominent modern-styled multi-story Bay Street Regions Bank building on Bay Street had any luck trashing the designation.)

The recent decision to include 1601 North Street and 1604 King Street in the district as originally intended has re-ignighted the concerns, and has been re-amplified after word has come that a retrofitting of the old Koth's store into a restaurant.

In a weekly e-mail address Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling has attempted to address the concerns by saying that council must also weight the interests of those who cannot be present at meetings for the greater good of the community, writing in part: 

To date, most "controversial" issues involve one constituency, one neighborhood or a particular segment of the community who get highly charged (and sometimes emotional) because the issue means a great deal to them. I understand that and appreciate their taking the time to express their concerns and sit down with City Council to see if differences can be reconciled or if some accommodation can be achieved.

While they deserve to be heard, it would be unfair to expect us to not also listen to those who are less organized, do not have time to attend council meetings but who stop us on the street or send us a quick email supporting or opposing a decision we make. 

The message has disheveled many members of historic preservation community with political opponents seizing on the dissent to call for the vote-out of council and mayor.