Marilyn Harris is running as a Democrat for the District 2 Council Council seat. She supports a Master Plan for Ladys Island, wants to finish Ladys Island transportation projects before approving a new capital sales tax, and believes the County needs to do a better job of keeping people informed.
Her responses are presented here, unedited and in full. More information on Ms. Harris is available on her website at votemarilynharris.com.
What would you say is today’s greatest single challenge facing the development of Lady’s Island and the Sea Island Corridor? How can this best be managed?
The greatest challenge is the lack of a fully executable plan to address the dramatic increase in growth that has resulted in traffic congestion, threats to natural resources and a loss of local character. One way this can be managed is by re-examining, revisiting, and revising the 2018 Lady’s Island Plan that will result in a Master Plan to move an updated and realistic Lady’s Island vision forward. This determined effort must happen with intention to avoid having any new plan languish on the shelf.
Was the ZBOA decision to deny a permit for a Dunkin Donuts coffee shop on the Sea Island Parkway appropriate, or do such actions send a “not open for business” signal to economic development?
The decision was appropriate. The issue was not that the community did not want a coffee shop but that the location the developer wanted was inappropriate. The County’s revised transportation study determined that there would be significant enough traffic concerns as to render a coffee shop with a drive-through in that location unsafe as designed. Any future developer who does a little research would be able to see and understand that the decision was not about the business but about the location of the drive-through coffee shop.
The Lady’s Island Plan was adopted by Council more than two years ago, setting a vision for its development. How essential is the development of a full Master Plan to guide the expected growth and development on Lady’s Island? Is such plan worth the estimated $250,000 it would cost? Why or why not?
It is worth the expenditure to develop a fully executable plan to guide the expected growth and development on Lady’s Island. The Lady’s Island Plan was developed in 2018 through a process that included robust public input, enjoyed strong community support, and was adopted by County Council. The plan will be five years old in 2023, the ideal time for any comprehensive plan to be reviewed and revised at least to update demographic information, economic growth, land use and traffic. Significant changes in land use have an effect on other land uses including the transportation network. Even though a substantial number of the goals, objectives and recommendations are still in the planning stages, there remains a need to review, revise and update the current Lady’s Island Plan. Some ways to determine if there is a need to update the current plan are looking at the age of the plan, the number of requests for variances, whether undesirable development is taking place and whether zoning related lawsuits have been filed.
Unincorporated communities need to continually monitor land use, housing, conservation, open space, and safety as much as incorporated communities.
A new ten-year capital sales tax proposal is being considered by the County Council, yet we have yet to complete (or begin) many of the Lady’s Island traffic improvement projects funded by the 2018 Capital Sales Tax. Which should come first?
The projects that were funded by the 2018 Capital Sales Tax should be completed first then a reevaluation of capital needs can be done. Of the nine planned projects, one has been completed and reportedly seven are in the planning stages and one has not yet been started. According to published reports, less than $1 million of the $30 million raised by 2019 has been used to complete the projects approved for Lady’s Island. Any proposal for a new sales tax should consider the impact on county residents and must include a list of projects to be funded and outline how those projects support the Comprehensive Plan.
Is the public’s right to know on planning matters sufficiently promoted by current Beaufort County practices? What would you recommend be done to improve/increase government transparency on planning and development decisions (at both the staff and Council level)?
The current practices are insufficient to keep the community informed of planning matters. The Council should require county staff and administrators to develop plans for keeping the community informed and require that those plans be properly implemented. Scheduled community meetings should be announced through multiple forms of media including those which residents who don’t have internet access can be fully informed. Individual County Council representatives have a responsibility to see to it that their constituents are well informed and have an opportunity to provide input before any plans are finalized and completed. In announcing upcoming meetings, county public relations staff should use all available media outlets so that every resident can access the information. Public Relations staff should provide up-to-date information that includes notes and minutes from meetings with groups or organizations. This too should be made available in a way that everyone has an opportunity to access through multiple media options.
As your District Representative, I will host regularly scheduled meetings such as Town Halls. I will do this so that I may hear from District 2 residents and keep them informed of any issues or upcoming plans that may impact the community.
What would you suggest be done to move Lady’s Island needs and improvements higher on the County Council’s list of priorities?
Elected officials are responsible for representing their constituencies. Council Representatives must be committed to listening to the community they represent, understanding the needs of their community and then being a strong advocate to ensure that their community’s needs are met. Council Representatives should encourage their constituents to join committees and use their voices to advocate for the community’s needs, join the Representative in other meetings with appropriate county administrators to explore options, and attend Council meetings and help to advocate for their community’s needs. I will be a committed and responsible County Council Representative.
What would you do – that hasn’t been tried – to engender greater cooperation between the City of Beaufort and Beaufort County on Lady’s Island matters?
I would start by taking the Beaufort City Council and the Beaufort Mayor at their word that they would like to find a way to work together and as the District 2 Council Representative, I will immediately connect with the Mayor and Beaufort City Council to begin this process. As your District 2 Council Representative I will propose to both the city and the county the establishment of a Joint Task Force to work together to develop a set of priorities to address issues and determine steps needed to resolve issues.
By population, Lady’s Island is the largest non-municipal jurisdiction in Beaufort County. Would you support he appointment of a Lady’s Island “Ombudsman’ to sit on the Council and participate in discussions directly affecting Lady’s Island? Why or why not?
I support having an advocate for the Lady’s Island Community who has a direct connection to the County Council, and I would be open to exploring the best option for ensuring the community is heard. However, I believe that with me as your elected District 2 Council Representative you will have an enthusiastic and hardworking representative who will listen to the Lady’s Island community and effectively communicate our concerns, wishes and desires. Having the right Council Representative will be the most impactful way of ensuring Lady’s Island’s needs are met.