Bluffton Town Council member Fred Hamilton is a lifelong resident of Bluffton who sometimes can’t believe what has happened in his hometown. Born in 1959, he’s lived in Bluffton his whole life — minus a three-year stint in the Army. The town’s population growth in the last 15 years has exceeded anything he ever imagined.
Hamilton was first elected to Town Council in 2005 to complete the term of his late cousin, Oscar Frazier, and was re-elected in 2008. During the 11 years he has served on the council — he lost a re-election bid in 2012 but won again in 2014 — he has been at the forefront of the annexation of Buck Island and Simmonsville roads and the push to extend sewer, water, sidewalks and street lights to these areas and other parts of town.
Hamilton has four daughters and five grandchildren and is the owner of Special Auto Sales, a used car lot at Kittie’s Crossing. He is passionate about athletics, especially baseball, and was instrumental in building a covered basketball court on Goethe Road. Over the years, Hamilton has held many positions with town commissions, committees, civic organizations and his church, Campbell Chapel AME Church.
He sat down with Monthly recently to talk about Bluffton.
Question. Have you seen any consequences of all this growth?
Answer. Negatives of the population growth include the impact on the public school system and on infrastructure. U.S. 278 turns into a parking lot during rush times.
Q. You’re a business owner — how has the growth affected your company?
A. Growth is always good for business. Before, most of my customers would be people I knew. Now I get people I don’t know. They just stop in.
Q. You were part of a committee convened by the Beaufort County School District to address overcrowding in schools. This committee recommended expanding Bluffton High School, but ultimately the district chose to build May River High School. What is your opinion about this now?
A. As a lifelong resident, I believe in one Bluffton. Having two high schools has led to a sense of rivalry and separation. I’m against that.
Q. How do you think we’re doing in terms of race relations in Bluffton?
A. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Everyone wants to be comfortable in their own space. Unless you say, “Let’s try to make a difference,” it goes unchallenged. I think we can do a better job in terms of our hiring practices at Town Hall. I don’t think our staff looks like our community. We can also look to our faith-based communities and ask for their help to bring the town together.
Q. What are some other priorities that local leaders should address?
A. Most of the kids who go off to college can’t find adequate jobs here at home that would make them want to return. The town should be encouraging technology-based industries that would offer more opportunities.
Q. You’re the chairman of the town’s affordable housing committee. What’s next for affordable housing in Bluffton?
A. The town just purchased 1.7 acres on May River Road, near Cahill’s Market & Chicken Kitchen. We will partner with a developer to build affordable housing there, but it’s too early to say if it will be single family or multi-family. This happened because a private land owner contacted the town and was willing to sell at a very affordable price. The town will also develop affordable housing on the old CrossFit site at the corner of Dr. Mellichamp Drive and Bluffton Road. This site will become part town parking, part open space and three to four single-family affordable houses. Also, I would like to say to your readers: You need to come to be part of our (affordable housing) meetings. We need to hear your story and we need to hear your employees’ stories.
Q. Any closing thoughts?
A. One of the things that’s important to me is preserving the culture of Bluffton. This is the culture that everyone fell in love with — and why many people decided to move here. I grew up in a time when you could have a $500,000 house next to a mobile home, and they were loving neighbors. Everyone helped each other out. We need to keep that spirit going.