Hilton Head residents offer Coligny improvement suggestions

dburley@islandpacket.comApril 2, 2014 

Town of Hilton Head Island Planning Commission member David Bennett, standing, leads a discussion group during an April 2, 2014, meeting in which the public was invited to make suggestions on how to improve the island's Coligny area.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

Ideas for improving the Coligny area ranged Wednesday from the lavish to the benign.

For some, the 15-acre plot owned by the Town of Hilton Head Island is ideal for an interactive tree house and shrimp boat-themed playground. Others pushed for green space and some shade. Parking and safety were on the minds of others.

But those attending the Planning Commission meeting agreed on one thing: Something should be done to spruce up the busy tourist district, which the town has tried to revitalize for nearly 15 years, officials said.

"We're looking at the realization that this is the heart of the island," said commission member David Bennett. "This is the village for Hilton Head."

About 60 residents crowded the Town Hall meeting room to suggest ways to improve the south-end locale. Commission members fielded the suggestions and compiled a list of common themes.

Well-received ideas included adding a children's museum and park.

Several residents who have small children said the park should have a playground. They also suggested moving The Sandbox, an indoor children's museum further up Pope Avenue, closer to Coligny.

Jennie Cerrati, who has two young children, said an enclosed place for kids to play -- especially in the rain or summer heat -- can make all the difference.

"Any place I can take them for 20 more minutes is good," she said.

An amphitheater or pavilion to hold concerts also would suit the open area along Pope Avenue, others said.

Others asked that swings, benches, picnic space and a safe spot for parents to drop-off and pick-up kids be part of the development.

Parking and road changes were also on the minds of many.

"I know everyone here has very grave concerns with parking," commission member Alex Brown said.

Some felt there was too much parking; others too little.

All were concerned with increased pedestrian and bicycle safety, pointing to the dangers involved in walking or biking near bustling Coligny Circle.

Frank Babel, co-chairman of Hilton Head's Bicycle Advisory Committee, suggested a trolley system that allows visitors to park their cars at a remote lot and ride to the beach. They could bring their bicycles, too, he said.

"There's existing, under-utilized parking that could make this happen," he said. "And more and more people are ditching their cars and using bikes around the island."

Planning Commission members will discuss suggestions from Wednesday's workshop at a special meeting later this month. A specific date has not been set, according to commissioner Terry Ennis.

Any changes to the area will be paid for with money from the town's tax-increment financing district.

That district includes about 1,400 acres, most with commercial zoning, along the south end's Palmetto Bay Road-Pope Avenue corridor, and the north-end's Stoney, Squire Pope, Chaplin and Mathews Drive areas.

Town officials are working on getting a 10-year extension of the tax district, set to expire in December, according to town manager Steve Riley.

Such an extension would generate $50 million for Coligny and other projects, including the town's plan to put a University of South Carolina Beaufort campus near Office Park Road, Riley said. The extension has already been approved by the Beaufort County School District and the Hilton Head Public Service District. Beaufort County has yet to decide.

Wednesday's meeting was the first time redevelopment was discussed since Town Council scrapped a plan to build a USCB campus at Coligny.

The panel dropped the idea in November when nearby residents raised concerns over increased traffic.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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