Town should say 'no' to rezoning near airport

info@islandpacket.comMay 14, 2013 

The specific financial problems of a landowner should not drive rezoning decisions.

But little else explains the Hilton Head Island Planning Commission's recommendation to allow up to 12 units per acre on 8.5 acres near the Hilton Head Island Airport runway. That's a three-fold increase in the number of homes or apartments that could be built on the property today.

More importantly, the Planning Commission's 5-3 vote in favor of rezoning went against the advice of the Federal Aviation Administration, the S.C. Aeronautics Commission, Beaufort County -- the airport's owner -- and town staff. All said the higher density development was incompatible with the nearby airport. The Aeronautics Commission said that area would be subject to "major safety and quality-of-life risks," and the rezoning could make it more difficult to get funding for future runway extensions. Town staff concluded it was inconsistent with the town's comprehensive plan, the residential nature of the area and the Ward 1 master plan.

The owners of the failed single-family subdivision are under a foreclosure order and said they could refinance their loan only if the property's use was changed. They asked for a zoning change that would allow up to 12 units per acre or a waterfront mixed-use designation that also would allow more density, as well as commercial development. Only one lot in the 32-lot subdivision has been sold in the four years the property has been on the market. They cite the airport as a possible reason a low-density project might never succeed.

But is that enough reason to change the zoning? Planning Commission member Terry Ennis, who voted against the rezoning, pointed out that higher-density apartment buildings wouldn't change the risk of building near the runway, but it would increase the consequences should something happen, such as a plane hitting a building. That's the rationale behind restrictions on what can be built near the airport. Town staff also pointed to the increased number of people that would come to the area if commercial development were allowed.

The impact on the property's marketability is a question addressed in the rezoning process. But it shouldn't be the determining factor when other significant issues are raised against the rezoning.

Planning Commission member Tom Lennox posed a troubling question: "Wouldn't the market determine the risk? If it was a significant issue to the people on the ground, they would choose not to reside there."

More likely: Potential renters or owners would think it was not risky because the town had allowed the development there.

This rezoning might make sense if it were not so close to the airport, but that's the case.

The rezoning request next goes to Town Council's Planning and Development Standards Committee and then to the full council, which must approve a rezoning. The council should say "no."

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