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Beaufort County Eliminates PUDs in Favor of Walkable Neighborhoods!

After several years of analysis and discussion, the Beaufort County, SC, Council voted 9 to 1 to adopt the Community Development Code, a comprehensive overhaul of the county’s zoning code. The CDC is a hybrid code, incorporating new zoning regulations for both walkable urban and driveable suburban areas. The Code will encourage pedestrian-friendly mixed-use neighborhoods in urban areas, preserve the natural environment in rural areas, and simplify and expedite the development and approval process for new projects.

Beaufort County followed the Town of Port Royal to become the second of three local jurisdictions to adopt a shared, Form-Based Coding platform. Opticos was commissioned in 2010 to create a multijurisdictional Form-Based Code that Beaufort County, the City of Beaufort, and the Town of Port Royal could share in order to better coordinate growth between the three jurisdictions, help channel future growth toward existing urban areas, and protect the county’s rural character. Opticos worked closely with all three communities to create a shared framework of Transect zones and related standards that could be adapted to the needs of each community.

County Planning Director Anthony Criscitiello said that the City spent a tremendous amount of time going over each line in the code with a special committee composed of four planning commissioners and four county council members. “We also tested the code with actual projects on the ground and then applied the code to see how it compared to the old ZDSO. From that effort we found tweaks to the code that we incorporated into the final draft,” he added.

The code is holistic in that it provides standards for public realm components, such as streets and civic spaces as well as regulations for private development, and includes a special article to regulate complete, pedestrian-friendly communities. The adoption of these new tools has led the County to consider eliminating planned unit developments (PUDs) in favor of walkable neighborhoods.

For the past 20 years, developers have often used PUD agreements to negotiate the look and density of certain projects with county staff, rather than following the county’s outdated zoning rules; nearly all of the county’s gated communities and many commercial developments were built as a result of such agreements, exacerbating auto-oriented sprawl.

As part of the approved ordinance, the council agreed to eliminate PUDs. The code will be reviewed after six months and a year to decide whether or not to consider bringing back what the County perceives as an outdated and unnecessary tool.

“They are not included in the new code because we wanted to see how the code will work without them,” said Criscitiello.

“This is a living work that will govern our county hopefully for the next several years,” said Councilman Brian Flewelling, chairman of the city council’s natural resources committee. “We will be changing this and molding it and shaping it so we can better guide our county in the planning process.”

Download the final draft of the Beaufort County Community Development Code. Or, download Opticos’s Workshop and Charrette Report.

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