The City of Beaufort has an assignment for you: Consider what the future of Beaufort should be like. Then participate in the comprehensive planning process.

Starting on Monday, Nov. 10, the good citizens of Beaufort will come together to start deciding on a vision for the city. Then we’ll spend much of the next week setting goals that will help us achieve that vision.
    It’s something that state law requires us to do every ten years. And if we weren’t forced to do it, we might avoid it, because it is painful.
    It is painful because it’s hard to develop a common vision. It means letting go pieces of what has been, surrendering elements of what we are now, and opening ourselves up to changes that we might never fully embrace.
    If it sounds like shrink talk, that’s because it kind of is. Comprehensive planning is like psychotherapy at the community level. The city has to get in touch with different parts of itself, ask itself tough questions, shed a few tears and resolve areas of cognitive dissonance. Tissue, please.
    It could drag on for months or even years, which of course makes it that much more painful for the ones who want to just finish up and go home and watch the ball game.
    But City of Beaufort Planning Director Libby Anderson is trying to keep it short, sweet and focused.
    So here’s how it’s gonna go: First the kickoff meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 10, at Beaufort Middle School. It’s an opportunity for the consultants to get a reading on the community. It’s also an opportunity for them to educate us about best practices in the field of community planning.
    After a lovely Veterans Day holiday on Tuesday, Nov. 11, the community visioning process will begin in earnest.
    At this point – at the beginning – it’s always fascinating to note how energetic and chipper and well-groomed the planning consultants are. We really should take before and after pictures. By the end of the week they’ll be a bunch of bedraggled, marker-huffing zombies staggering around, muttering something about form based codes.
    From Nov. 12 through Nov. 14 – that’s Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – the consultants will be working their butts off. They will be confined to the Dolphin Room at the Sea Island Motel on Bay Street from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. After a supper of bread and water and a night spent in a rodent-filled garret, they will return each morning to their Sisyphean task.
    Their thankless job is to listen to the guys who want traffic to move faster, and then listen to the guys who want it to move slower, and then listen to the special interest group that is so anti-traffic that it doesn’t want any traffic at all — and then come up with a solution that will make all of them happy. Like I said, thankless.
    At the very least the scheduling framework should satisfy everyone who wants to participate. The planning consultants are trying hard to accommodate different kinds of working styles and schedules. While there is a highly structured agenda of topics to be covered in focus groups during the week, there is also a drop-in and drop-everything policy.
    That means if someone drops in from off the street while everybody else is talking about  the scheduled topic, for example Big Boxes, and the new person wants to talk about something else, like Downtown Parking, one of the consultants will drop what they’re doing and will work with that individual on Downtown Parking.
    So if you don’t get your voice heard it’s your own fault, because those consultants – they’re from a firm called the Lawrence Group – are going to be available pretty much every waking moment.
    At the end of each day, the consultants will have spent several hours writing with colorful markers on big sheets of paper. They are quite fond of these markers, and they may even try to talk you into working with them as well.
    A word of warning is in order here. Planning consultants are fascinated by the coloring habits of ordinary citizens. Persuading others to color is a compulsive behavior pattern common among members of this profession. A typical ruse involves giving you a map of a particular neighborhood, then watching how much pink and purple you would apply to certain parts, and how much of various shades of green and yellow on the other sections.
    While the meaning and purpose that motivate this ritualized behavior remains obscure, the practice appears to be harmless. Just go along with them.
    At the end of each day, the consultants will stick the pieces of paper up on the wall and try to make sense of it all. And from 6:30 to 8 pm they will have what they call Open Design Studio. They will be working and continuing to welcome citizens who want to drop in and take a look at what they are figuring out.
    The mornings of Saturday, Nov. 15 and Monday, Nov. 17, are dedicated to Open Design Studio, too, to give citizens further opportunity to learn and provide input.
    Then it’s time for the Big Day. A draft of the consultants’ recommendations will be presented to the public on Monday, Nov. 17, at 6 pm, in Council Chambers.
    After this, the City Council members and staff planners will tinker with it, and within a few months they should have ironed out the wrinkles and approved the plan. Then, in 2018, we’ll start doing it all over again.
    What will things be like ten years from now, in 2018? Get involved, and you’ll have a chance to shape the future.

City of Beaufort
Comprehensive Planning Schedule

Monday, Nov. 10, Beaufort Middle School: Kickoff Presentation (6 pm)

Wednesday, Nov. 12, Dolphin Room, Sea Island Motel: Housing (9:00 am), Arts & Cultural Facilities (10:30 am), Transportation & Circulation (1:00 pm), Pedestrian, Bicycle & Transit Planning (2:30 pm), and Open Space, Parks, Greenways & Blueways (4:00 pm). Wrap up: Daily Project Update (5:30 pm), Meeting of the Neighborhoods (6:30 pm, all neighborhood leaders and residents

Thursday, Nov. 13, Dolphin Room, Sea Island Motel: Downtown Development (8:30 am), Downtown Parking (10:30 am), Environmental Protection & Sustainability (1:00 pm), Historic Preservation (2:30 pm), and Utilities (4:00 pm). Wrap up: Daily Project Update (5:30 pm), Open Design Studio (6:30-8 pm).  

Friday, Nov. 14, Dolphin Room, Sea Island Motel: Big Boxes and Corridor Design Standards (9:00 am), Town of Port Royal Coordination Meeting (11:30 am), Advisory Committee Meeting (1:00 pm), Real Estate and Development Stakeholders (2:30 pm), Small Businesses (4:00 pm).  Wrap up: Daily Project Update (5:30 pm), Open Design Studio (6:30-8 pm).

Saturday, Nov. 15, Dolphin Room, Sea Island Motel: Open Design Studio (9 am until noon), Daily Project Update/Design Pin-Up (3:00 pm).

Monday, Nov. 17, Dolphin Room, Sea Island Motel: Open Design Studio (9 am until noon)

Monday, Nov. 17, County Council Chambers: Closing Presentation (6 pm)
NOTE: It doesn’t matter if you reside within the city limits or not. In the spirit of regional cooperation, people who live in outlying areas are invited to participate in the city’s comprehensive planning process.