Only two of the four tennis courts have nets. The courts are covered with cracks, paint-stained footprints and chalk writing. The courts’ chain-link fence has three holes large enough for a person to easily get through.
And it’s owned by the town of Hilton Head Island and open to the public.
James Ackerman, board president of Cordillo Courts, a condominium complex that’s split in half by the tennis courts, wants the the town to either clean up the courts or sell the 1.47-acre property to someone who will. Ackerman made the request at a Town Council meeting last month.
Ackerman told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette that since March, the board overseeing the 72-villa complex on the island’s south end has invested about $280,000 to renovate its condominium property. But he said he routinely has witnessed drug deals, parties and illegal parking in the town-owned area surrounding the tennis courts, which he noted often is littered with trash.
“Just as Cordillo Courts has been called out on how we maintain our property in the past, the town is now being called out,” Ackerman told Town Council at its Sept. 19 meeting. “In the last year, folks have seen Cordillo Courts make significant improvements to their property, while the town’s property has declined into further disrepair.”
“Not only has the town let the property become an eyesore,” Ackerman added, “they have failed to uphold their legal obligations that govern the property when they purchased it.”
Council members did not comment after Ackerman addressed them.
Contacted Monday, council member Tom Lennox, who represents the Cordillo Courts area, said the town should either do a better job of maintaining the property or sell it to the condominium property owners’ association.
“I actually favor selling it,” he said. “It’s too restricted and too closed-off to be an effective public park.”
Council member Bill Harkins said Monday he’s yet to hear “the perfect solution” regarding the tennis courts, but thinks the property should be sold to the Cordillo Courts property owners’ association.
But not all share that sentiment.
Council member Marc Grant said Monday he’s concerned that if the town sells the property, it would negatively impact children in the low-income area. He said the town should either do a better job of maintaining the courts or work jointly with Cordillo Courts to improve the area.
“My concern is the kids in the community — they don’t have a place to play,” Grant said. “It’s in an area that hasn’t done enough work for the kids.”
Grant said he doesn’t think the property should be sold until Cordillo Courts can “show they really care about those in the neighborhood.”
Council member Kim Likins agreed that the property should not be sold, but acknowledged that the town has not maintained it well over the years.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to sell the property at a loss when we could fix it up,” she said.
Contacted Monday, mayor David Bennett said the parcel should not be sold to the property owners’ association, noting the tennis courts are the only public courts on the island’s south end.
“I certainly agree with (Ackerman),” Bennett said. “The town ought to maintain the property it owns. When you look around Hilton Head Island, tennis is alive and well.”
Cordillo Courts and a neighboring condominium complex, The Hedges, have attempted to purchase the tennis courts before. In 2016, their request to buy the courts and turn them into open space was denied because, as some on Town Council expressed at the time, it would be a bad deal for taxpayers and residents.
In March 2016, Bennett and his family twice cleaned up the tennis courts, filling several gallon-sized bags with trash.
Because of the cost of improvements Cordillo Courts recently made to its property — replacing decks, balconies, driveways, and plumbing, and adding surveillance cameras — Ackerman said the property owners’ association currently isn’t able to purchase the tennis courts and surrounding town-owned land. But several Cordillo Courts property owners have offered to buy the land and sell it back to the association, he said.
If Cordillo Courts were to become the owner of the property, it would likely become green space, possibly with a playground and picnic tables, Ackerman said.
Harkins said the town-owned property is controlled by covenants that require the land to always be used as tennis courts. If the property were sold to Cordillo Courts, a referendum vote to change the covenants would be required of property owners there before the tennis courts could be removed, he said.
According to Beaufort County property records, the town purchased the courts and surrounding land in 2002 from Dennis Van Der Meer, the founder of Van Der Meer Tennis, for $400,000.
Town manager Steve Riley said Monday there are other town-owned tennis courts on the island, including those at Chaplin Park on the island’s north end.
The town’s Parks and Recreation Commission is expected to discuss recommendations for the tennis courts at Cordillo Courts at its meeting Thursday.