Increased housing near Hilton Head airport to be debated

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 2, 2013 

A developer wants to add more homes to save a failed subdivision near the Hilton Head Island Airport, but aviation agencies say that could harm the airport's future and endanger residents.

Hilton Head Island Town Council will vote Tuesday on whether to rezone the 8.56-acre housing development off Beach City Road near the airport runway. If approved, 31 duplexes could be built for a total of 62 homes. Currently, the development has 32 lots for single-family manufactured homes. Only one single-family home has been built on the property since the development started in 2009.

A council committee and the town's Planning Commission have endorsed the request, but town staff, Beaufort County government, the S.C. Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration have advised against adding more homes than are currently allowed.

Both the FAA and Aeronautics Commission have written letters to the town saying the rezoning is "incompatible" with the airport because of risks associated with the land's proximity to the runway.

The parcel is about 3,000 feet from the north end of the runway. It falls within the approach path and partially within a hazard zone deemed to have a high probability of plane crashes.

The Aeronautics Commission said more houses that close to the runway would subject homeowners to "major safety and quality-of-life (noise) risk." The commission also said rezoning would make it difficult for the airport to get funding and permission for runway extensions.

The rezoning would increase the height restriction on structures built on the property from 35 to 45 feet, which is still within the limit allowed by the airport's approach path and hazard zones, according to town planner Jamie Lopko. But whether that would be the case if the runway is extended, as called for in the county's airport plans, is unknown, Lopko said.

The property was bought out of foreclosure in September by HSSC LLC after a group of native-islander developers -- sensing council resistance -- withdrew plans to add more homes, Lopko said. They wanted the Beach City Place development rezoned to allow up to 12 homes per acre, an increase from the currently allowed four homes per acre.

The new rezoning request calls for eight homes per acre, with plans to build duplexes, according to attorney Chet Williams, who represents the new developer.

Allowing more homes could make the project more economically viable, Williams argues, and provide much-needed affordable housing on the island.

The Planning Commission agreed, voting 6-2 for the rezoning on Nov. 6. Terry Ennis and chairwoman Gail Quick dissented. Both said the rezoning should be denied to limit the number of people at risk should an airplane crash on the property, according to meeting minutes. Attempts Monday to reach Ennis and Quick were unsuccessful.

Other commission members argue that the rezoning will provide better-quality housing that is compatible with the neighborhood, which includes golf cottages, dormitory housing for the Junior Players Golf Academy, single-family homes, another failed subdivision and The Spa on Port Royal Sound.

"The risk is always going to be there (for a plane crash), whether you have four or eight homes per acre, which the market will sort out," commission member Tom Lennox said Monday. "... I think this is a good compromise for how best to deal with that land -- instead of leaving it as a failed, deteriorating residential development, to allowing better-quality housing more desirable to the island."

Council's Planning and Development Standards Committee also recommended last month that the rezoning be approved.

Town Council meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall. If approved, the rezoning request would face a second vote at the council's next regular meeting Dec. 17.

Also on Tuesday's agenda:

  • Amend the town's land management ordinance to remove the standard that auto sales are not permitted on sites within 1,500 feet of an existing residential use
  • Agreement reimbursing the Hilton Head Public Service District for costs to extend sewer to the Baygall area
  • Executive session to discuss the town manager's annual review and compensation, mid-term contract review of the town attorney, land acquisition, legal and contractual matters.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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