What does it take to annex an island? Hilton Head Island Town Council members will discuss that process for the Bay Point Island project during their annual workshop Friday.
The town approved reviewing a request to annex the 347-acre island during a meeting in September. Discussions quickly came to a halt following Hurricane Matthew.
Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas out of Bangkok, Thailand, has proposed a five-star resort on the island, which it says will be focused on eco-friendly practices. Others have argued, however, that any development on a barrier island lacks environmental friendliness.
Town officials have previously said numerous meetings and public hearings would be needed before deciding on the request. But it has yet to outline what that process will look like.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette in September reported that Town Council members met privately with developers and resort officials in the months leading up to a decision to start the annexation process.
Mayor David Bennett on Monday said Town Council will hear for the first time during Friday’s workshop meeting what that process could look like. He added no decisions are made during the annual workshops.
“I have asked Steve (Riley, town manager) to identify the steps associated with vetting the annexation request,” Bennett said.
Preliminary plans submitted to the town by Six Senses show the development could include 50 guest houses, along with amenities including a restaurant, spa, gym, tennis courts and lookout locations.
Yet, Tom Gardo, spokesman for the development, said the plans are only preliminary and could change — especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“We are still in the process of clearing debris we have on the island,” Gardo said Monday. “Once we have done that, we will review our plans.”
It’s possible that lost trees from the storm could change plans, Gardo said. New clearings, for example, could provide a better spot for amenities, he said.
The project has its critics, including the Coastal Conservation League, which has raised concerns about the annexation since it was first brought to the public in September.
Kate Schaefer, CCL’s South Coast Office director, said Monday any development on small barrier islands comes with an environmental risk. Development of the land could disturb threatened and endangered species, such as shore birds and nesting sea turtles, she said.
As sea levels rise, development on Bay Point could also become costly to taxpayers, especially during extreme weather such as recently witnessed with Hurricane Matthew, she said.
“It is a shifty, sandy barrier island that is subject to change,” Schaefer said. “You can see up and down the coast that development of barrier islands is expensive because Mother Nature moves its sand.”
Representatives with Six Senses have said the Town of Hilton Head Island will have no financial burden with development of Bay Point, noting that the resort will cover beach renourishment costs.
Town officials said earlier this year that Hurricane Matthew would delay the island discussions until January. Bennett said Monday further talks about Bay Point likely will be even later than that, adding it’s possible the matter won’t come up again until the end of the first quarter of 2017.
Bennett and Gardo said cleanup from the hurricane, both on Hilton Head and Bay Point, is the reason for the delay.
Friday’s workshop discussion about Bay Point is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa at 2 Grasslawn Ave.
Town Council also will meet Thursday of this week at the same time and location to discuss other issues for 2017.