An earlier version of this story indicated that Bay Point Island is zoned for rural uses rather than natural preserve.
Beaufort County elected officials and top administrators were unaware of plans to build a upscale resort on Bay Point Island until Monday.
The 347-acre undeveloped island currently sits in unincorporated Beaufort County just north of the Broad River, but there is an annexation proposal by the property’s owner that would bring it under the jurisdiction of Hilton Head Island.
“I received no heads-up about this at all,” County Councilman Brian Flewelling said Tuesday. “I was shocked, quite frankly, when I heard about it.”
County administrator Gary Kubic said he “only learned of the project at the beginning of the week.”
While the county has yet to formulate an official position on whether to support the development and the annexation, individual officials have expressed concerns.
“Annexation needs to be systematic and something we can plan,” Flewelling said.
The Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan establishes that system for growth and annexation, he said. But Hilton Head Island is south of the Broad River and therefor not included in the plan.
Hilton Head Island town officials and the property owner — Bay Point Island LLC — “need to step up to the plate and tell us exactly what they intend to do,” he said.
County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said he first learned of plans for the island Monday, “and it did surprise me.”
But, he said he is “not going to point fingers” at Hilton Head officials or the property owner because state law does not require either party to consult the county.
That should change, Sommerville said.
“I think there should be legislation that requires” the county be informed about annexation requests within its borders, he said.
Regardless of state law, Kubic said, “it’s always best (for county leaders) to be appraised of a potential change (to municipal borders). I think that’s reasonable.”
In addition to frustration over lack of notice about the project and annexation plan, county leaders expressed concerns Tuesday about the impact — both commercial and environmental — of the proposed resort.
“I don’t want to say I am going to oppose it out of hand,” Flewelling said. “But, generally, I’m skeptical about (building) a large development on what is essentially a sandbar.”
“That just kind of seems like a bad idea on its face,” he said.
Beaufort County’s development code currently has Bay Point Island zoned as a natural preserve area, county planning director Tony Criscitello said.
Natural preserve zones are “intended to preserve areas that contain sensitive habitats, open space, and limited agricultural uses,” according to the code.
The code generally allows for the construction of about one home per every ten acres. Ecotourism facilities are allowed if the property owner receives special permission from the county.
County officials were skeptical Tuesday about whether development on Bay Point Island would be economically feasible.
“I’m interested in seeing how this particular type of enterprise could yield a positive return,” Kubic said.
He compared Bay Point Island to Hilton Head’s remote neighbor to the south Daufuskie Island, which has recently had some difficulties fostering successful business ventures.
Sommerville said Daufuskie Island has “been struggling to survive and thrive.”
“I can’t imagine (a resort on Bay Point Island) wouldn’t be in direct competition with (hotels and businesses on) Daufuskie Island,” he said.