A giant new development proposed for greater Bluffton is moving forward with the blessing of the Beaufort County Planning Commission despite concerns from neighborhood residents.
The board got a look Thursday at revised plans to redevelop the Hilton Head National Golf Club, after sending the property owner back to the drawing board earlier this year to scale back the massive scope of the proposed project.
Hilton Head National’s owner Scratch Golf LLC wants a zoning change from the county that would allow the company to transform the failing greater Bluffton course into 300-acre development with a mix of commercial, residential, hospitality, entertainment, and recreation spaces.
In September, the planning commission tabled a decision on whether to recommend approval of the zoning change to allow the owner to address concerns raised about impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods and shopping areas.
“We’ve worked hard over this thing” since the last meeting, planning commission chairman Robert Semmler said just prior to voting in favor of recommending the zoning change.
The slightly scaled-back development, which is in a very preliminary conceptual phase, could include the construction of 400,000 square feet of retail space, 500 hotel rooms, 300 apartments, 200 single-family homes, 400 assisted-living units, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, and a 1,500-seat performing arts center by 2030.
The massive project — located near the Bluffton Parkway flyover at the corner of Bluffton Parkway and Malphrus Road — also would require significant infrastructure improvements such as new public schools, a fire and police substation, and major expansions to the transportation network, county documents show.
The revised proposal presented to the planning board included more connected neighborhoods, less commercial space, and additional public trails, parks and preserve areas.
“We believe our team has addressed the primary issues” raised in the past by board members and residents of neighboring communities, Scratch Golf representative Martin Kent said Thursday.
But concerns including traffic, the environment, and the economy continued to be expressed Thursday evening.
Rick Sweet, resident of the nearby Heritage Lakes neighborhood, expressed concerns about general over-development in the Bluffton area.
“Do I like the whole concept of what (the property owner) is doing? No,” he said.
Resident John Roberts said nearby roadways just outside of the Hilton Head National property — such as Foreman Hill Road — will be overcome with traffic if the development is built.
The transportation improvements needed to accommodate all of the new growth inside the development could cost more than $12 million despite the scaled-back plans, according to estimates from a third-party transportation engineering firm brought in by the county to examine the proposal.
“This cost may rise,” county planning director Tony Criscitello said Thursday. “... This is just a starting estimate.”
A study conducted by Clemson University and the University of South Carolina Beaufort on behalf of the property owner estimated that the economic impact of the project “could exceed $100 million within four years.”
With the golf industry in decline around the region, Scratch Golf representative Greg Dale said Wednesday that the greater Bluffton area “will need alternatives (to golf) to continue to grow.”
Sweet questioned the economic viability of the project, calling the development “a casino.”
Local resident Fran Gellman expressed concerns about “maintaining the quality of life” in Bluffton and wondered what the proposed development could mean for the health of the May River.
“I’m worried about water quality,” she said.
Tamara Davis agreed, saying, “Water quality is a big thing, and part of the value of our community is nature.”
Members of the planning board acknowledged the legitimacy of neighbors’ concerns but argued that the development would be a net benefit to the area.
“I personally feel this is smart growth,” commissioner Randolph Stewart said.