Anyone who’s had a spat with a neighbor about an overgrown lawn or untidy trash cans knows that issues can easily ooze over the imaginary border of a property line.
The same concept applies to cities and counties: The effects of growth — particularly large-scale growth planned in Hardeeville with the recently announced East Argent development — will undoubtedly affect neighbors in Jasper and Beaufort counties and municipalities such as Bluffton.
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“There’s a general awareness that the actions in one jurisdiction have impacts on their neighbors,” S.C. Sen. Tom Davis, whose district includes both Jasper and Beaufort County, said — referring to those shared impacts as the “spillover effect.”
While leaders in Hardeeville are full-throatedly celebrating news of a plan to bring 9,500 homes, 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, and about 20,000 new residents to the city, officials in nearby Beaufort County jurisdictions are taking a more cautiously optimistic view.
They’ve been burned before by fights over proposed developments that straddle county and municipal boundaries.
A debacle surrounding proposed redevelopment at the Hilton Head National Golf Club in greater Bluffton found the property owner, Beaufort County leaders, professional planners, Bluffton officials, and locals who live both inside and outside the town at odds with one another, and ultimately resulted in a pending lawsuit against the county.
In the months since that turmoil, governments have vowed to embrace a wider-scope regional approach to growth.
Moving in the right direction?
Because different jurisdictions have different rules about zoning, environmental protection standards, building codes, impact fees, and taxes, developers have been accused of “zone shopping” in the past.
Critics of the practice say it pits jurisdictions against one another by allowing a developer to simply choose to build wherever is cheapest and ignore potentially negative impacts on nearby cities or counties.
Lowcountry governments have taken steps in recent month to address those issues and foster more cooperation.
In September, Beaufort County joined six other counties, including Jasper County, in the economic development cooperative SouthernCarolina Alliance. Around the same time, elected officials with both counties, Bluffton, Hardeeville, Ridgeland, and Hilton Head Island formed the Southern Lowcountry Regional Board to improve growth and development coordination.
But impacts such as traffic, pollution, and overcrowding may challenge the Lowcounty leaders’ stated commitment to regional planning efforts.
Hardeeville is quickly becoming a hotspot for development, with thousands of homes and acres of commercial spaces planned along the U.S. 278 corridor — squarely in Beaufort County’s and Bluffton’s backyard.
This concentrated growth is occurring, at least in part, by design, Jasper County administrator Andrew Fulghum said.
Leaders with Jasper County and it’s two municipalities — Hareeville and Ridgeland — adopted a growth planning strategy about a decade ago that encouraged development inside the municipal boundaries, while “keeping (unincorporated) Jasper County rural,” he said.
“From a land-use standpoint, it makes sense for growth to happen where infrastructure already exists,” which has led to an explosion of annexation and subsequent development agreements in Hardeeville, Fulghum said.
“It’s exciting what that (rapid growth) will bring to the region,” Jasper County Council chairman Martin Sauls said. “It will bring a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of challenges” in terms of keeping up with adequate government service levels.
Planned projects such as East Argent and Latitude Margaritaville Hilton Head “are things that affect so much for the whole region,” Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams, who serves as chairman for the Southern Lowcountry Regional Board, said.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka, the regional board’s vice-chairwoman, said, “We know we have to look at the bigger picture” and become “more in synch” across jurisdictional lines.
“Hardeeville knows they have to grow,” she said. “I just hope we all can learn from each other and have goals that are as close to possible as matching.”
Beaufort County interim administrator Josh Gruber said, “The progress that we’ve made recently is probably something we need to build on.
“There needs to be clear communication among all the entities in this region when it comes to projects of regional significance,” he said. “Something like Hilton Head National and like East Argent are prefect examples of projects that have that kind of significance.”
While Davis said state lawmakers can play some role in facilitating regional cooperation on growth, “ultimately this is something the counties and their leaders need to work out themselves.”
Storm brewing over stormwater?
Davis stressed that it is critical for jurisdictions to partner on environmental protection efforts.
That came into play in a major way during the failed development agreement negotiations between Beaufort County leaders and the owners of Hilton Head National, situated not far from the May River. Hundreds of residents packed public meetings to express concerns about pollution and water quality degradation.
A major aspect of environmental protection is stormwater control, and “massive developments tend to increase runoff,” Davis said.
As more specific plans for East Argent come into focus, a similar environmental concerns may re-emerge. The roughly 7,300 property sits near the headwaters of both the Okatie and New rivers.
On environmental issues, government leaders — regardless of the jurisdiction they represent — must “work together in concert instead of independently,” Davis said.
Counties and municipalities must “develop strategies that will mitigate the effects of growth,” he said. “There has to be a recognition that if they don’t do something, they wont be able to reverse the (environmental) damage.”
Beaufort County Council, under a recommendation from the stormwater department, is considering forming a new committee that would consider creating regional water quality standards.
Slow, Traffic Ahead
The ever increasing U.S. 278 traffic, likely to be intensified by the thousands of new vehicles driven by residents in developments such as Margaritaville and East Argent, is also a concern that crosses county borders.
Beaufort County has taken the issue of U.S. 278 traffic head on — issuing bonds to pay for nearly $10 million in road improvements, partnering with the S.C. Department of Transportation to change traffic signal patterns in hopes of reducing backups, and approving a 2018 referendum that will ask voters to hike the sales tax to help pay for Hilton Head Island bridge improvements.
“The traffic is already a problem today, so regardless of new development (in Hardeeville) we still need to do something,” Gruber said.
While East Argent’s developer Argent Land Holdings LLC has committed nearly $80 million in impact fees to road infrastructure projects in and around the development, it’s unclear how much impact those projects will have on U.S. 278 traffic.
However, Jasper County voters have proved willing to spend tax dollars on transportation projects in the past — most recently approving a sale tax referendum last year to raise money for road improvements.
Regardless of the level of cooperation between regional governmental organizations, experts say growth will inevitably march west from Hilton Head Island and Bluffton toward Jasper County.
“The region is posed for growth and development. We have seen it move west from Hilton Head Island since the mid (1990s) and we expect that to continue; especially with the proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal and other businesses looking at the Lowcountry,” Jean Beck, Hilton Head Area Association of REALTORS president wrote in a recent email.
“ ... Across our country there is a housing shortage and the need for builders to develop. Buyers (interested in moving) to the region have different expectations and lifestyles, the East Argent Community and Latitude Margaritaville will be additional choices.”