Bluffton Mayor reflects on growth

Lisa Sulka is in her third term as mayor of Bluffton, having shepherded the town through the Great Recession and the resurgence of its Old Town area.

She fended off a rough-and-tumble challenge in 2015 from Cynthia Bensch — then a member of Beaufort County Council — to win her third term with 79 percent of the vote.

She was born and raised in Prosperity, near Columbia, and is a graduate of Clemson University. She has lived in Bluffton for more than 20 years and is a Realtor with Carson Realty in Bluffton. She and her husband, John, have three children.

Halfway through her third term as mayor, Sulka was asked a series of questions about her accomplishments and what she hopes to achieve next. As can be expected, town growth is a big part of that conversation.

QUESTION: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment as mayor and why?
ANSWER: Working with Town Council to be transparent to our citizens is one of the biggest accomplishments. We put all of our agendas and related action items on our website, and anyone can go on and see what any of our commissions and council will be talking and acting on.

I also have a good relationship with all of our schools and students and work to keep them all updated on our town, stressing the importance of giving back. I started the Mayor’s Service Award, and all Bluffton high school students can participate

On a planning level, seeing the Old Town Master Plan come to fruition. This was approved in 2004 while I was on council and truly shaped our historic district as it is today. We have constantly used the plan as our “town bible,” and it is working. It is very exciting to see how this area is developing and how it is so celebrated by residents and visitors.

QUESTION: What is the biggest challenge currently facing the town and how should it be addressed?
ANSWER: There are several challenges we will be faced with over the next decade.

One, transportation. This is mostly in the hands of the county and state, but we will be seeing additional growth within our town limits and unincorporated Beaufort and Jasper counties. We need to all work together to be one voice with the state and Washington, D.C., on funding for the widening of Interstate 95, along with any other connector roads that will help alleviate traffic.

Two, build-out of the town and unincorporated Beaufort and Jasper counties. Bluffton is currently around 30 percent built out. The town is managing this best as we can, but these were development agreements put in place long before this council was seated, and we are working to keep this in a phased process.

Three, keeping the May River healthy. We own very little river frontage and we are reliant on the county to work with us on solutions. As the town and county build out, this has to be a focus for both of us.

QUESTION: What is your vision for the town's future?
ANSWER: That our town is young and innovative with a thriving University of South Carolina Beaufort and Technical College of the Lowcountry. I see our Don Ryan Center for Innovation — formed to help business startups in Bluffton — becoming the hub for innovation. Within our development agreements, there are areas dedicated to schools and commercial, and I see the commercial areas filling in as rooftops are constructed, which will give the homeowners in these areas conveniences within a short walk or drive from their home.

QUESTION: What is the most frustrating part of your job, and the most rewarding?
ANSWER: The most frustrating part is when something happens in our area that the town has no jurisdiction over, but the town usually gets the blame for it. It is hard to get the correct information out to everyone when this happens. It is also frustrating for the citizen, as much as for me, to not be able to get the info on whether someone lives in the town limits or not, especially during election season.

The most rewarding is when I can help a resident with a concern they have and that I can be a voice for our residents when they want me to.

QUESTION: What is the most important lesson you have learned as mayor?
ANSWER: That government moves much slower than the private sector, and we have to manage residents’ expectations that when something is approved at a council level, it may take a month or two longer to make it a reality.