Hilton Head is right to back off of Coligny plan

info@islandpacket.comNovember 15, 2013 

Hilton Head Island Town Council made the right call this week, backing off of an ambitious plan to put a University of South Carolina Beaufort campus in the Coligny area.

Two of three proposals council considered included a site for a USCB hospitality management program for about 200 students who would attend classes and work in their field of study.

But residents -- some argue a vocal minority of residents -- raised concerns about increased traffic and parking shortages. It's a valid concern in the summer months when tourists swarm the area, using the island's primary beach access point and enjoying dining and shopping.

Be they a minority or not, an adequate number of residents have weighed in with the same concerns to stop council in its tracks.

And yet, we also appreciate the town's frustration. For years, redeveloping the Coligny area has rightfully been a priority. Town leaders are understandably eager to begin moving dirt, not just planning how, to rejuvenate the area.

Coligny needs increased activity in the off-season and some serious sprucing up of, not only its public spaces, but dated rental units. Resort destinations must continually improve or be pushed aside by competitors.

It seemed town leaders had found a perfect fit with a USCB campus. Students would have taken advantage of parking and given a boost to Coligny restaurants and shopping during the slower times of year when tourists are away. And in the summer, students would head home, leaving the area for tourists to enjoy.

We suggest the town work with Beaufort County, the Beaufort County School District and other participants to extend the tax-increment finance district for a while longer. That would buy time to produce a plan that suits Coligny residents and makes the most of TIF proceeds.

That's not to say the town should return to the drawing board. Plan after plan has been agonized over and shot down.

It's more sensible to pick parts of previous plans that have broad agreement -- more parking and green space -- and fashion a low-key plan that suits the community. Perhaps a park with a children's museum and a playground -- elements included in the three plans council considered earlier this week -- may work, although, with a beach nearby, we're doubtful they'll get much use.

It may not be the grand plan the town has hoped for, but it may be enough to spur private development.

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