Beach club parking call merits more explanation

info@islandpacket.comJuly 29, 2013 

An artist's rendering of the new Sea Pines Beach Club.


The Hilton Head Island Board of Zoning Appeals' decision to dismiss a case filed over a parking plan for a new Sea Pines Beach Club is disappointing, especially if those filing the appeal decide not to pursue the case any further.

We would like to hear in detail the town staff's rationale for determining that the project is an "active park" and understand all the options that were considered.

At issue is whether the town is objectively following its own rules and not bending them to give applicants what they want. Better to change the rules than to do that.

Under criticism in recent years for stifling business development and redevelopment, town officials rightly have described the town's ordinances as community consensus, approved by officials elected by town residents. Recognizing that process, they moved to change rules that brought criticism, rather than ignore them.

But as this case shows, there is often another side to such a redevelopment request, and it's important that everyone know, understand and follow the rules.

This case also illustrates that zoning decisions can be technical. The appeal was dismissed based on the fact that the Sea Pines resident who filed it doesn't live within 350 feet of the project, and she did not have written permission from those listed in the appeal who do live within that boundary.

Town planner Teri Lewis has said that "active park" came closest to fitting the 15,000-square-foot beach club facility planned for the site, and a "commercial" designation wouldn't take into account the full scope of the project.

Perhaps, but ball fields and tennis courts come closer to what most of us envision as an "active" park, not a building that houses two dining areas, a private event space and retail and office space, albeit one that also offers showers and changing rooms for beachgoers. "Sports complex" is given as an example of an active park attribute in the town's Land Management Ordinance.

At issue is the number of parking spaces that should come with the new facility. The active park designation allows Sea Pines Resort to submit a plan for parking, rather than having to meet a prescribed formula for other uses, such as a commercial building. The town approved the resort's plan for 158 parking spaces, with pledges for off-site parking, shuttle service and more bicycle parking. That number is down from the current 178 spaces and below the minimum 200 spaces opponents say would be needed for a commercial project.

Unless opponents of the parking plan appeal their case to circuit court, construction could begin this fall. And we won't know for sure whether Sea Pines Resort has come up with an adequate plan until the new club opens for business.

And we still won't fully understand the town planning staff's call.

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