After years of debate and revision, sweeping ordinance changes intended to encourage redevelopment on Hilton Head Island were endorsed by a town panel Wednesday.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a new land-management ordinance and redrawn zoning districts. Town Council will discuss the proposed changes at a 4 p.m. July 8 workshop at Town Hall, 1 Town Center Court on Hilton Head.
After the workshop, council members must approve the changes twice before they are put in effect. The new ordinance could be in place as early as this fall.
Officials say the changes allow a broader range of land uses and reduce building restrictions, making it easier for owners to improve their properties and for businesses to expand.
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For example, the changes scale back density and height restrictions in the Coligny area. Under the new ordinance, developers could build a hotel or mixed-use apartment complex as tall as 60 feet in some cases. Currently, buildings must be less than 45 feet tall, according to town documents.
The ordinance's drafters say the changes aren't meant to encourage rampant, unsightly development.
Instead, the new ordinance erases "overly bureaucratic" restrictions that caused aging office buildings to sit vacant and developers considering reinvestment to look off the island, said Hilton Head architect Tom Crews, chairman of the ordinance rewrite committee.
"We've already proven that we're not Myrtle Beach, and this won't make us Myrtle Beach," he said. "We're just looking to match the regulations with the type of development we want."
Land preservation was a "guiding principle" in drafting the ordinance, said Councilwoman Kim Likins, who served on the draft committee.
"There's a unique sense of beauty on the island," she said. "At the same time, we're evolving as a community, and we need a living document that evolves with us."
The decision to change the ordinance came after many residents complained about inflexible planning standards that suffocated growth. In one commercial district, an owner "can cut hair but they can't sell T-shirts" without special exception, senior town planner Teri Lewis said.
The topic became a defining issue in the 2010 mayoral and Town Council elections, prompting commitments from political leaders to make it easier to develop or redevelop property.
"People told me that our buildings were tired, that we weren't that world-class destination anymore," Likins said.
Now, commercial areas such as Pineland Station, Port Royal and Northridge plazas could see redevelopment.
Crews said passing the new ordinance is the first step. The next is bringing business to the island.
"It won't happen overnight," he said. "But once things are redeveloped at a place like Coligny, I think that success will daisy chain down Pope Avenue."
Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.