New day could dawn on commercial areas

Proposed zoning changes will breathe new life into Hilton Head Island's dated properties.

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 26, 2014 

It made sense in the late 1980s for the newly-incorporated Town of Hilton Head Island to create strict zoning guidelines to slow the onslaught of haphazard, incohesive construction. Some of what was popping up, seemingly overnight, was incompatible with the understated, natural look of the island that residents treasured. And some of it was just downright unattractive and similar to the glitz of Myrtle Beach.

But today is a new day.

The very zoning regulations that saved Hilton Head from overdevelopment are now a an impediment for much-needed renovations of existing buildings.

And let's be honest. Several of Hilton Head's commercial areas need sprucing up, particularly if the island wants to preserve its spot as a top-tier tourist destination in an increasingly-competitive market.

That's why we applaud town plans to rework and simplify the town's zoning regulations with an eye toward making it easier for owners to improve their properties, for businesses to expand and for prospective developers to get their shovels in the dirt. Redevelopment is what Hilton Head needs now to ensure visitors return each year.

It will mean new life for dated commercial areas including Coligny, one of the area's earliest commercial districts, and the Pineland Station shopping center whose owners say they will rebuild much of the north island center partly in response to the town's proposed planning standards. It could even bring new tenants to Office Park Road where old buildings sit empty and forgotten.

That's good for tourists and equally good for residents who will enjoy refreshed versions of their favorite stores and restaurants and new businesses that take advantage of the updated space.

But town leaders should proceed with caution to ensure the island does not become a developer's playground.

The overall look of the island -- including its natural beaches unencumbered by high-rise hotels, its scenic views and animal habitat, protected from light pollution and developers' bulldozers, and its towering, Spanish moss-covered oaks, preserved by strict tree ordinances -- should remain. The goal should be a better, updated version of Hilton Head Island, not a complete remake.

The proposed changes will deliver on that request by allowing a broader range of land uses, fewer building restrictions and higher-density construction in its commercial areas like Coligny, steering such development away from natural areas and neighborhoods.

We hope the public will have its say in the process. A second planning meeting will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall. It's a chance to ensure Hilton Head's next chapter is as prosperous as its last.

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