The Sea Pines Resort is postponing a referendum vote on whether to greatly expand The Inn & Club at Harbour Town — a controversial plan aimed at turning the hotel into a five-star destination.
“While it is clear the majority of residents are in favor of the changes, it is equally apparent that some property owners have reservations,” Sea Pines Resort said in a release issued Monday evening. “It is the Resort’s desire to reach a positive outcome with overwhelming support from the community. We will proceed to develop a more complete vision of how the Resort’s properties may evolve over the years to come.”
Steve Birdwell, president of Sea Pines Resort, said Tuesday the resort plans to spend the next six to nine months refining its master plan, looking closely at proposed Harbour Town improvements. He noted the benefits offered to residents contingent on the referendum passing may be changed, although he said the resort considers the current offer “generous.”
Birdwell also said the resort would be reviewing the gate fee issue during their revision of the master plan. The resort earlier promised to support increasing the fee from $6 to $10 if the referendum passed.
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The proposal to more than double the size of The Inn & Club from 60 to 150 rooms has spurred opposition from residents. Approval of the referendum would have allowed the resort to invest $70 million to $100 million over the next five to 10 years in the Harbour Town area. Sea Pines Resort officials have said their goal is to create a five-star resort with the expansion.
A major concern raised by some residents involved the fate of Lawton Stables, which was the planned site of the relocation of tennis courts and the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy.
“I think they’ve realized how important it (Lawton) is to the community,” said Natalie Lieberman, a client of Lawton Stables who created a petition urging the resort to find a new spot for the tennis courts. “I hope that’s represented in the new terms sheet.”
Smith Stearns Tennis Academy officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Dana Advocaat, a resident and co-administrator of the website Voices of Sea Pines, which has been critical of the proposed expansion project, said Tuesday she believes the results of a survey by Community Services Associates, a group that represents all Sea Pines property owners, might have contributed to the resort’s decision to postpone the vote.
The survey found 53 percent of property owners would approve the referendum, according to Advocaat and an email release from Alliance for Sea Pines Future, another group that has criticized the resort’s plans. Advocaat noted residents were recently told that the percentage of property owners needed to approve the referendum was lowered from 75 percent to 66 percent.
“I think they (resort officials) saw the writing on the wall,” she said. “I think the community was never clear on what (the resort) intended to do. I think even their supporters questioned that.”
In an email statement Tuesday, CSA said they “respect” the decision of the resort to postpone the vote and have informed Sea Pines property owners of the delay. Charlie Miner, president of The Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The resort in its release said it intends to continue improving Sea Pines but recognizes it will require “compromise on the part of all stakeholders.”