After several months of discussion by various boards and commissions, the Beaufort County Council voted to stall the Hilton Head National Golf redevelopment.
The owners of the course, who say continuing to use the 300-acre greater Bluffton property for golf is not economically viable, are seeking a zoning change that could pave the way for a massive new development with the potential to transform a large swath of southern Beaufort County.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods and some county leaders have been critical of early plans for the project, which include the possibility of 400,000 square feet of new retail space, 500 hotel rooms, 300 apartments, 200 single-family homes, 400 assisted-living units, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, a 1,500-seat performing arts center, and a water park in the shadow of the newly finished Bluffton Parkway flyover.
The massive project would require millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, including a new public school, a fire and police substation, and major expansions to the transportation network, officials say.
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The council voted to Monday to form a development agreement subcommittee in hopes of negotiating terms more favorable to the county and nearby residents.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Councilman Tabor Vaux, who led the charge to delay approval of the zoning change.
As of late Monday, more than 1,400 people had signed an online petition called “Stop The Hilton Head National Project!”
Concerned residents packed the council chambers at Monday’s meeting.
One after another, more than a dozen speakers addressed the members of the board — so many that Councilman Paul Sommerville joked several times about missing the College Football Championship game.
“This is not progress; this is a disaster,” Rosalie Richman said.
The development will lead to the “erosion and disappearance of the charm” of the Bluffton area, she said.
Raymond Dominick said, “Beaufort County does not need this development, and if it’s built — it could do a lot of harm.”
Concerns from the crowd centered mainly around traffic, overcrowding, May River pollution, and increased burden on taxpayers to help subsidize infrastructure improvements.
Speakers made personal pleas to members of the County Council to vote against — or at least take more time to consider — the project.
“I just ask you to listen with an open mind and an open heart to the issues we are bringing before you tonight,” Debbie Fejes told the board.
Martin Kent, president of The United Company — parent company of the course’s owner Scratch Golf LLC — defended the proposal.
“We truly are members of the community,” he said. “... We are in this for the long haul.”
He touted the economic development and job growth potential, and he called on the community to “help us make this a solid investment in this region.”
Kent wasn’t alone in speaking in favor of the proposal — several neighbors spoke about their high hopes for the project.
Vince Harrison said he thinks the development could be “a fantastic attraction” and believes the property owner is committed to its success.
Councilman Brian Flewelling — who, along with Councilman Stu Rodman, were the only council members to vote against forming a development agreement subcommittee — agreed with the potential for the property, saying the area “is ripe for development.”
Rodman said, “If that’s the way we do business, maybe we need to revisit the way we do business.”
The subcommittee will be formed in the coming weeks. It will report to the council’s Natural Resources Committee.