In its opening gambit Tuesday, a Beaufort County board tasked with negotiating an agreement with the owners of the Hilton Head National Golf Club offered to allow development on a little more than a third of the 300-acre course in greater Bluffton.
The Beaufort County Council’s development agreement subcommittee — made up of County Councilmen Tabor Vaux, Steve Fobes and Rick Caporale — proposed a deal that would rezone up to 130 acres and allow the construction of a mixed-use development that could include residential, commercial, hospitality and entertainment spaces. The remainder of the property would retain its current rural zoning.
The proposal was offered “in the spirit of being reasonable,” Vaux said Tuesday.
The representatives from the course’s ownership group, Scratch Golf LLC and the United Company, declined to take the bait.
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George Bullwinkle, an attorney representing the companies, told the subcommittee that the owners are not rejecting the proposal “out of hand,” but “we are trying to get our heads around” it.
That proposal constitutes “an extreme reduction in density” as compared to preliminary plans put forth by the property owners, he said.
Those 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.
Bullwinkle said studies conducted by Clemson University and the University of South Carolina suggest such a development could have a “$100 million economic impact within four years.”
But size and scope of the proposed project have raised concerns from the public and some local elected officials about overcrowding, traffic, environmental impacts and infrastructure costs.
Many of the roughly 100 people packed into a standing-room only conference space at the Hilton Head library for Tuesday’s meeting voiced those concerns while council members and the property owners went behind closed doors to discuss the subcommittee’s scaled-back development proposal.
MaryAnne Bromley said environmental impacts such as water pollution and loss of green spaces are a big concern for her.
“We have beautiful wildlife,” the Rhode Island transplant said.
“One of the reasons we left there is because our water was polluted, shellfishing is dead,” she said. “We don’t want to see that happen here.”
Linda Browne said, “We consider this paradise ... so we need to be stewards of environment.”
“We don’t want to become another tawdry beach town” with over-development and gridlock along roadways, she said.
Regardless of the outcome of future negotiating sessions, it could be quite a while before the Hilton Head National redevelopment approval process wraps up.
County Councilman Paul Sommerville said, “I don’t know how long (the negotiation process within the subcommittee) is going to take — nobody knows.”
If an agreement is reached, a recommendation will be handed up to the council’s Natural Resources Committee to be vetted and discussed before the issue is ultimately presented to the full council for final approval.