Hilton Head panel wants to fast-track traffic fixes in Coligny

dburley@islandpacket.comApril 23, 2014 

Cars stop to allow bicyclists to cross South Forest Beach Drive at Coligny Circle.

JAY KARR — Staff photo

Suggestions for a revitalized Coligny area include a sprawling green space, an elaborate playground and a children's museum.

But before any improvements can take place, parking and traffic concerns in the busy tourist district should be addressed, a Town of Hilton Head Island panel said Wednesday.

"Let's get the common-sense things done now," Planning Commission chairwoman Gail Quick said. "Unless we solve traffic and parking, the rest of our ideas aren't going to work."

About 30 residents attended the commission meeting to recommend upgrades for the nearly 15 acres on the south end of the island.

Several suggested minor traffic fixes that could pay dividends when the town is ready to develop the district, they said.

One well-received idea would put signals at the busy crosswalk on South Forest Beach Drive off Coligny Circle that would tell pedestrians and bicyclists when to cross, resident Peter Ovens said.

A stoplight on South Forest Beach Drive also would control traffic entering and leaving the circle, and stop cars when pedestrians needed to cross, he said.

"It would collect people on both sides, then the light sends them through, like meeting armies," he said.

He also suggested creating an entrance to the Coligny Beach Park parking lot from South Forest Beach Drive. Currently, cars can only exit onto the road, which can stall traffic, he said.

Since the parking lot fills up fast in the summer, many residents have championed off-site parking.

Trolleys, like those at Sea Pines, could taxi beachgoers from their cars to the sand.

Resident Frank Babel implored the commission to explore the trolley idea.

"Go get one, rent one from Sea Pines, but let's see if this works ... now," he said.

Quick and commission member Terry Ennis liked what they heard.

"It's the low-hanging fruit concept," Ennis said. "If something doesn't need to wait, let's do it."

Some ideas will, though.

The commission voted Wednesday to send the list of suggested amenities to Wood+Partners, the architects hired by the town to spruce up the area.

Commission member David Bennett said he hopes any plans will give the site a characteristic look, similar to island locations such as Harbour Town or South Beach Marina.

"When you arrive at this area, you should know you've arrived here," he said.

Any changes 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 want 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 Beaufort County, the school district and the Hilton Head Public Service District. Hilton Head Town Council will consider the extension May 20.

Consultants will return with plans for the Coligny area in 60 to 90 days, according to town planner Jennifer Ray.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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