FLORENCE, S.C. -- The first step of updating the city of Florence’s comprehensive plan will be the hiring of a consultant.

Recently, Florence City Manager Drew Griffin and Planning Director Jerry Dudley sat down for a conversation about the city’s plans to update its comprehensive plan.

By South Carolina Code, any city or county that has a planning department must develop a comprehensive plan.

The city developed its first comprehensive plan beginning in 2009. On Feb. 14, 2011, the city council approved its comprehensive plan. The plan was then updated in 2017 with changes to the plan and the creation of a pedestrian master plan. In 2018, a study on the U.S. 76 corridor from Francis Marion University to Church Street prepared by collaboration between the county and the city was added to the plan.

Now, the city must update its comprehensive plan to stay compliant with state law.

Griffin said that the city puts more resources into the creation of a plan than most cities in the state. Still, he added that he was hopeful that the updating of the plan would be easier than the creation of the first plan.

Once the consultant gets hired by the city council, a series of ways for the public to provide input will be developed. Those ways of getting public input include the creation of a committee and several public meetings for the public to voice their opinions. The consultant also will probably seek certain stakeholders such as major businesses and industries for input.

The city council also will get an opportunity to offer input on the plan as well.

The consultant then must develop all of the information into a series of strategies and goals for the city moving forward. For some idea of scale of information, consider that the city’s original plan is 41MB in terms of file size.

Once the plan is developed, it will go before the seven-member city council for approval. In five or so years, the plan will be updated midway through its 10-year lifespan.

Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela said he expects the new plan to be fairly ambitious.

One area of focus for the plan probably will be the demolition of the Florentine building and the development of that property. The building has several addresses on Coit Street. The property is diagonally across West Evans Street from the City Center and is on the corner of West Evans and Coit Streets.

Tax records indicate that the property was purchased by the city on June 1, 2018 from Ashby Builders LLC for a price of $1.85 million.

Florence Downtown Development Manager Ray Reich added that the city is in contractual negotiations with an out-of-town developer regarding the block.

The city’s design review board has approved a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the building. It is not yet clear when the demolition will happen.

Subsequently, the city issued some short-term bonds to pay itself back for the purchase price.

The new development will result in a big increase in the amount of TIFF funds for the city’s downtown area.

The city also has already held two meetings to receive input from the community leaders regarding the downtown. The downtown master plan is also being updated with the comprehensive plan.

One of those meetings was held on Sept. 26, 2018. The goal of making downtown more appealing to millennials was discussed, and a SWOT analysis of the downtown area was conducted.

The second meeting was held on Jan. 30 in the activity room of the Florence County Museum. In that meeting, a top-five list of priorities was created.

“We basically did two,” Reich said. “One of them was with the [Greater Florence] chamber of commerce board and some other people that they invited, and the other one was with a lot of our people that are involved with downtown, either on the downtown development corporation board or other downtown property owners and merchants.”

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors includes more than 40 members of the community, including Wukela and Morning News Publisher Bailey Dabney. The board is chaired by Mindy Taylor, the government and community relations manager for Duke Energy. The board helps decide the courses of action for the chamber.

The downtown development board includes 10 members of the community. It is chaired by Scott Collins. The development corporation works in partnership with the city’s downtown development office to facilitate and promote the redevelopment and revitalization the city’s downtown.

“It went really well,” Reich said.

One of the top priorities is the development of a downtown park to make the city a more attractive place for families and the downtown a more attractive place to live.

“Typically, downtown parks are at least two acres or larger,” Reich said. “The big challenge there would be where we would identify two acres of land.”

Other priorities from the meetings were the development of condominiums and apartments in the downtown area, the creation of a dog park to make the city more accessible for pet owners, and more kid-friendly activities and locations.

Reich said the city and the corporation are working with developers on the building of condominums and apartments.

The development of condominiums and apartments also more closely connects the city’s downtown to the McLeod Medical Mile.

Another item the city is working on now is the creation of walking trails for the city’s downtown.

Reich said the walking trails were something the city could do without the need to make it a goal of the comprehensive plan. He added that the city plans three walking trails to begin at the corner of Evans and Dargan Streets so that those staying in the downtown hotels can access the trails for exercise.

The trails are planned to be one-half mile, 1½ miles and three miles in length.

Government and Poltics Reporter

I cover the city of Florence, the county of Florence, the state legislative delegation of Florence County and surrounding areas, and the federal delegation representing the Pee Dee for the Morning News.

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