A developer's request to add more homes to save a failed subdivision near the island's airport was rejected Tuesday by Hilton Head Island Town Council.
Council denied the rezoning request in a narrow 4-3 vote after hearing concerns from Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic and members of a county airport advisory board. They worried the increased housing could harm the airport's future and endanger residents. The county owns the airport.
Council members Kim Likins, Marc Grant and John McCann argued those safety concerns are overstated and would exist regardless of the number of houses built there. All three voted to rezone the area.
Voting to deny the request was Mayor Drew Laughlin and Councilmen Lee Edwards, Bill Harkins and George Williams Jr.
"If safety is such a concern, I suggest the county buy the land so nothing is left there," McCann said. "It's still a safety issue whether you have four homes (per acre) or eight homes (per acre)."
The 8.56-acre housing development off Beach City Road is about 3,000 feet from the north end of the runway. It falls within the approach path and partially within a hazard zone deemed to have a high probability of plane crashes.
The property was bought out of foreclosure in September by HSSC LLC. The developer wants the Beach City Place development rezoned to allow up to eight homes per acre instead of the four homes per acre currently allowed. The company plans to build duplexes, according to attorney Chet Williams.
Currently, the development has 32 lots for single-family, manufactured homes. Only one single-family home has been built on the property since the development started in 2009.
A council committee and the town's Planning Commission endorsed the rezoning request, but town staff, county government, the S.C. Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration have objected.
Kubic, the FAA and Aeronautics Commission wrote letters to the town saying the rezoning is "incompatible" with the airport because of risks associated with the land's proximity to the runway.
The Aeronautics Commission said more houses that close to the runway would subject homeowners to "major safety and quality-of-life (noise) risk." The commission also said the proposed rezoning would make it difficult for the airport to get funding and permission for runway extensions.
The rezoning plan would also have increased the height restriction on structures built on the property from 35 to 45 feet -- still within the limit allowed by the airport's approach path and hazard zones.
Building the homes would still be risky, according to island flight instructor Chuck Copley.
"We're really low at 3,000 feet out from the runway and accidents do happen," Copley told council. "You're putting the most vulnerable at risk - young families and children.
Attorney Chet Williams argued that allowing more homes could make the project more economically viable and provide much-needed affordable housing on the island. He declined comment following council's vote.
Harkins and Edwards said the rezoning runs contrary to town efforts to discourage high-density residential development near the airport. The town has spent more than $9 million since 1998 purchasing more than 88 acres to curb development and preserve land in the area, including historic Mitchelville, the first self-governed freed slave town in America.
Harkins also objected to "using zoning to serve as remedy to poor business decisions."
"We have a failed property and know we need affordable housing for people who work on our island," Likins said. "... The town has bought a lot of property in this area to remove density with plenty of opportunity for density to be made available."
Video: Hilton Head council denies request to increase housing near runway (1:10)
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