Low-profile projects best for Coligny area

Residents have made it clear they do not want high-density development in Coligny area. Town Council should listen.

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 3, 2014 

It's good to see the Town of Hilton Head Island talking to residents again about how to improve the Coligny area, a busy but dated tourist destination that town leaders have discussed improving for 15 years.

Last November, the town temporarily shelved redevelopment discussions after a large contingency of residents adamantly opposed an improvement plan that included a new University of South Carolina Beaufort campus. Residents worried the addition would increase traffic in the already-bustling district.

The town threw up its hands and scrapped the plan -- and hopefully learned an important lesson. Those who call Coligny home oppose high-density development and any other large addition that will increase traffic. It's a valid point around Coligny Circle where bikers, walkers and cars maneuver around each other, guided by limited outdoor lighting and a sometimes laissez-faire approach to crosswalks and traffic signals.

If Town Council proposes another sweeping project, it is certain to be met with similar resistance. Council members, including Lee Edwards, should avoid such grandiose thinking.

"I really don't want just some ho-hum additions," Edwards said recently. "I want something spectacular and iconic."

It's important to note that being understated is also part of Hilton Head's history and look. We urge council to follow Mayor Drew Laughlin's lead and identify projects that are low-profile.

Such a move will require compromise from both Town Council and residents. Council must turn its back on large-scale projects while residents must be logical and realize that nearly any improvement will cause some increase in traffic. After all, there's little point in publicly-funded redevelopment projects if they do not encourage private investment and attract more visitors.

We think several residents offered suggestions at a Wednesday town hall meeting that fit the bill including a children's museum where parents could take bored kids when inclement weather hits and an amphitheater/pavilion for live music and performances. Others suggested a playground and a park with picnic space, seating and plantings to provide shade from the summer sun.

All of these sound like reasonable proposals that would benefit both residents and visitors while keeping with the current look and feel of Hilton Head. They would also not cause drastic traffic increases.

And certainly some of these new amenities could be designed to reflect the unique characteristics of island life. Wednesday, ideas included an interactive tree house and a shrimp boat-themed playground, for example.

We would also encourage town leaders to take seriously concerns about traffic, parking and safety, particularly if additional commercial space is going to be part of the plan. It may be that a low-profile parking deck is needed, which would lessen endless circling by drivers and offer a few stories of parking on a limited footprint. That would be far more attractive than a large asphalt parking lot on valuable land near the beach.

Another intriguing parking solution is a trolley system. Frank Babel, co-chairman of Hilton Head's Bicycle Advisory Committee, rightly points out that there is under-utilized parking nearby where drivers could park, then catch a trolley into Coligny. Sea Pines relies on a similar system during the summer months.

Planning Commission members will discuss residents' suggestions at a special meeting later this month.

The community has not only reinforced its interest in modest improvements but offered specific suggestions. It's best if town leaders heed that advice and think Hilton Head instead of thinking big.

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