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Commentary: Neither Highway 41 plan is acceptable. Here's a better idea.

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As a retired city planner from Germany, I am dismayed by the quandary of S.C. Highway 41.

Neither of the two current plans appears to be acceptable. The Phillips Community should not be burdened with the full, unmitigated impact of the road widening, and divvying it up with Dunes West makes it worse because it does not help Phillips as much as I believe it should, it affects many more residents and it diminishes a county park.

But doing nothing is not a solution. Local and state authorities should assume responsibility for a more comprehensive approach. It must resolve the property issues in the area, mitigate the impact of increased traffic and generally improve living conditions in the community.

In Germany, two government-sponsored programs, best described as “land consolidation” and “urban development” (which includes small communities), have successfully dealt with problems like this one.

Land consolidation has transformed splintered agricultural parcels into effectively managed farm land with new access roads while improving the environment and turning neglected villages into livable communities. Urban renewal has revived decaying town centers and inner-city residential areas while protecting existing residents and businesses, providing funding for improvement of private properties and much more, such as historic preservation.

Both programs are based on coordination between all government entities concerned and a vigorous process of participation for those affected, with the goal of reaching consensus on a comprehensive plan that avoids radical solutions such as eminent domain.

This is what is needed here, and it should be possible.

While Germany relies on a legal structure to implement and fund projects, this country, as I see it, has the advantage of flexibility. Change is possible here much faster when solutions can be found — if the political will is there.

With only a limited understanding of the situation, I present these considerations as possible building blocks of a plan:

• The route through Phillips is the logical choice from a traffic planner’s viewpoint.

• The impact on the already disadvantaged community can only be accepted if it is mitigated to a degree where the community will be better off than it is now.

• A four-lane road with center turning lanes can be envisioned with tree lines, wide walking and biking paths on both sides, a reasonable speed limit and frequent pedestrian crossings.

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• A number of homes will be too close to the road, and the owners must be afforded the choice and means of relocating to other lots in the community.

• The problem of heirs’ property must be resolved by the government agencies in charge, not left to the pro bono work of lawyers, much as it is appreciated.

• This can best be achieved with legislation, and funding that would amount to reparation for the neglect of this problem over the years. The Phillips situation is not unique; it is time for a statewide solution.

• A legal process is required that allows for subdivision and allocation of title. It could be similar to the process of probate. Supporting this, a public trust land bank could handle the reallocation of properties.

• Residents need to be persuaded by a plan that goes further than just clearing the path of the highway. It must include improvements to homes, streets, walkways, green spaces and community buildings in the area. If this succeeds, land consolidation will be more acceptable and in parts achievable on a consensual basis.

• Where will the money come from? Plan A, without mitigation, is some $60 million less than Plan B. That difference represents $300,000 per affected home.

• It should be possible to raise funds from donors who might be interested in this new approach to an old problem. It would not be unfair to ask for support from homeowners’ associations in new developments that are concerned about the impact of Plan B on their living conditions and home values.

• Most important, the community has considerable potential for development that can be utilized, provided that the livelihood of the original residents is secured.

The process should be started with a preliminary design that provides a vision and can be discussed with all parties, private and public.

It is a proven practice to establish an information bureau in the neighborhood and hold meetings in semi-public spaces there so residents can inform themselves and be heard.

With a convincing plan, participation and some money to make it easier, mountains can be moved.

Reinhold Roedig of Wadmalaw Island is a retired city planner from Germany who specialized in urban renewal. 

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