Lisa Sulka

The Town of Bluffton purchased the 37-acre New Riverside Barn property on Dec. 31, 2018, from Palmetto Bluff for +/-$200,000. This property is strategically located at the intersection of Hwy. 46 and Hwy. 170 and adjacent to a high-growth area including New Riverside, Cypress Ridge, Palmetto Bluff, etc., along the Western boundary of the Town.

The land includes an existing iconic 2,700-square-foot barn, open pasture areas and woodlands, and was purchased for the purpose of creating community event and open space for civic and park use.

Town Council recommended funding for Conceptual Master Planning during FY 2020-21 Strategic Plan and 2020 budget approval, and after posting a Request for Qualifications in July 2019, the design team was selected. The team includes Wood & Partners Land Planners and Landscape Architects, Thomas and Hutton Engineers, and Liollio Architects.

Planning officially began with a kick-off meeting between staff, our town manager and the design team on Oct. 9. A list of potential program elements for the park was discussed and recommended to be presented for public review and input.

These included the following;

• Improve barn for use for private and community events (add restrooms, warming kitchen and more natural light)

• Trails for walking, running and bicycling

• Nature blending, inclusive playground

• Open space for flexible use

• Shelters for picnicking

• Non-staffed, low-to-ground challenge course

• Low impact parking

• Food truck area

• Oyster roast facilities

• Fireplace or fire pit

• Interpretive signage

Public input was obtained during the Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival on Oct. 20, when 85 surveys were obtained. The public was invited to interact with town leaders and staff, see the site, review the site maps, complete a project questionnaire and review potential park program elements at a Public Stakeholder Meeting on Nov. 2, during which 270 surveys obtained (more than 300 attended).

Respondents were requested to vote on their favorite park features through a dot matrix exercise. Public input will be considered in the design of the master plan, which town council will consider in the coming year.

Based on the results for the surveys, the following six park facilities received the highest amount of support, based on aggregate scoring from both events:

• Restrooms (947)

• Existing barn, improved for events; add restrooms and warming kitchen (827)

• Flexible use open space (828)

• Shelters for picnicking (812)

• Multi-purpose trail system (770)

• Nature-blending playground (794)

Based on the results of the dot matrix voting, the following six park facilities received the highest amount support

• Improved barn for events; add restrooms and warming kitchen (181)

• Walking and running trails (150)

• Nature blending, inclusive playground (93)

• Bike trails (126)

• Flexible use open space (93)

• Shelters for picnicking (89)

Staff, town manager, park planners and engineers will develop conceptual master plan alternatives for the park and architects will develop conceptual architectural plans and elevations of proposed barn renovation, additions and other park structures.

The design team will update and revise conceptual plans and prepare preliminary estimate of probable construction cost, followed by a presentation of plans and estimates to town council and the public for review and comment at the April quarterly CIP workshop.

Staff will present a budget request to town council for funding of the final design, permitting and construction documents (FY 2021) and construction implementation of phase 1 park development (FY2022).

Lisa Sulka is the mayor of the Town of Bluffton.