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Status: CCL has been working with the Town of Bluffton and its residents about reducing and preventing further degradation of the May River by using watershed based planning. The Bluffton Watershed Plan was developed to showcase the science behind the use of “transferable development rights” (TDRs) for shifting density away from highly sensitive headwaters to less sensitive areas. CCL has joined forces with Dr. Fred Holland, former Director of NOAA’s Hollings Marine Laboratory, to test the premise of our Watershed Plan. Dr. Holland’s findings shows that we can significantly reduce pollutants in the May River by transferring density, thus precluding a continued decline of the river’s health. Bluffton Town Council has adopted a May River Watershed Action Plan, which incorporates a TDR program as the central component for preventing further degradation of the May River.

What is the issue?

The greater Bluffton area is defined by its waterways and marshes, but water quality in the area’s rivers is declining. An increase in storm water runoff has accompanied rapid development and engineered solutions are not enough to fix the problem. The dominant pattern of development, sprawl, has brought with it a high ratio of impervious surface. When the impervious surface (rooftops and roadways) in a watershed reaches 10%, the health of the waterways begin their decline – beginning with oysterbed closures.

As we accommodate growth, we must change the way we build our communities. If we build more densely in appropriate areas we can preserve strategic areas in the interest of water quality. Our plan is a road map to 10% impervious in the Okatie, May and New River watersheds.

How would it affect South Carolina?

This solution can serve as a model for other communities, new and old, which grapple with the balance of development and its impact on our natural environment.
This plan puts the 10% impervious threshold to practical application in a design-by-watershed approach to growth. Water quality can be improved while still accommodating future growth. A critical result of these density transfers is the creation of more compact, walkable, mixed use communities – a pattern of development that produces not only healthy water but also healthy people and a healthy economy.

What can you do about it?

The Transfer of Development Rights Program is a vital tool in implementing this plan. Development agreements should be opened and transfers incentivized. Units must be transferred from ecologically sensitive areas into places with existing infrastructure and “underutilized pavement.” Developed areas should be assigned minimum densities, higher than 4 units per acre (downtown Beaufort is approximately 5.6 units per acre.) Please tell your elected Town and County officials that you want to see this plan implemented.

  • Improved water quality and health of our rivers, the backbone of our communities.
  • Reduced impervious surface coverage = restoration of oyster beds, preservation of fishing and swimming and other recreational uses.
  • A wider choice of housing options and neighborhood types, including mixed use and walkable communities.
  • If the greater Bluffton area is developed according to the approvals as they currently exist, impervious surface will exceed 20% in the May River watershed and edible May oysters will be a thing of the past.
  • The health of our rivers is at stake. Communities like those around the Chesapeake Bay and other metropolitan watersheds know that there is no going back to the pristine state that existed before.

Photo: Paul Nurnberg, flight provided by Southwings

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Related Articles

CCL Slideshow
May River TDR Scientific Case Study
Related Link
Calculation Tables for TDR Case Study

Related Links

Impervious now and future- Graphs
Impervious Graph - May River only
Appendix C, EPA Density/Water Quality
Appendix A, Low Impact Development
Appendix D, Bluffton TDR Ordinance
Appendix B, Spreadsheets
Detailed Plan Explanation and Guide