Tensions ran high Wednesday evening during a forum in Bluffton designed to give the public an opportunity to learn and ask questions about the proposed redevelopment of the Hilton Head National Golf Club.
The event — hosted by the Greater Bluffton Republican Club — featured a panel of Beaufort County Councilmen Mike Covert, Brian Flewelling and Rick Caporale and local architect Michael Kronimus, who is working with the course’s owners on plans for the project.
At several points during the event, club president and forum moderator Sarah Kimball politely reminded the roughly 175 locals packed into the auditorium at Bluffton Town Hall to remain quiet and respectful.
Grumbles and an occasional shout could be heard as the panelists answered questions about zoning regulations, the development process and potential impacts of the proposal to transform the 300-acre golf course.
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The course’s ownership group, Scratch Golf LLC and the United Company, have their sights set on building a “true mixed-use facility” that combines residential neighborhoods, commercial space, hotel accommodations, and areas for recreation opportunities, Kronimus said.
Recently revised plans call for the construction of 300 apartments, 300 homes, 500 hotel rooms, 400,000 square feet of retail space, 125,000 square feet for office space, a 500-room hotel, a 400-bed assisted living facility, a 1,500-seat performing arts center, a convention center, and a water park.
Those plans, which could still be amended, are currently being worked into a development agreement between the county and the property owners. That agreement must ultimately be approved by county leaders before any construction can begin.
Much of the conversation from the panel involved that process and the ways the county’s Community Development Code is used to guide zoning and growth. None of the council members tipped their hands as to whether they would support the redevelopment as it is currently proposed.
The size and scope of the project have raised concerns from the public and some local elected officials about overcrowding, traffic, environmental impacts and infrastructure costs.
Many residents left Tuesday’s forum with the same concerns they arrived with.
Jennifer Kirkland said, “I cannot imagine why a sleepy little town like Bluffton” would need amenities like a convention center or more retail space, particularly given the golf course’s proximity to the Tanger Outlets on U.S. 278.
More development in the area is likely to compound traffic problems around the Bluffton Parkway flyover, she said.
“It is going to negatively impact all of Old Town Bluffton and the areas of unincorporated Beaufort County close by,” she said.
Robert Stella said while the meeting was informative, he still has lingering questions.
Susan Jacobsen echoed this sentiment.
Forums such as Tuesdays are a helpful way for the community to provide input and learn about proposed projects, she said.
But while she is “by no means anti-growth,” her belief that “you can’t just pave over everything” persists, Jacobsen said.
“I think that this has been a major shock to Beaufort County to see (proposals for a development) of this level of magnitude,” she said.
At the end of the forum, Flewelling thanked the crowd for taking the time to attend and provide feedback. But he acknowledged that he’s “not sure that we made our points as succinctly as we should have.
“I appreciate new opinions and arguments I had not considered,” he said. “But let’s be realistic — the sky is not falling.”