Sea Pines residents at a community meeting Tuesday expressed plenty of concerns about a proposal to add 90 rooms to The Inn & Club at Harbour Town.
“(There were) things presented here that were half-truths,” one resident said during the question-and-answer session at the 9:30 a.m. meeting. A reporter from The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette was not allowed in the sold-out, residents-only forum, but could listen to the discussion by sitting outside the meeting room at the Sea Pines Country Club.
Sea Pines Resort president Steve Birdwell estimated there were more than 300 in attendance. A second, sold-out forum was planned for Tuesday evening.
Residents who spoke at the morning meeting were overwhelmingly concerned about the proposal, which would more than double the hotel’s current size. One resident said it was inequitable to residents and only benefited the resort, while another raised questions about a water park rumor, which resort officials dispelled.
Other residents said they were concerned about construction of a new pool that would require a membership fee, and what would happen to the tennis courts near the hotel.
Birdwell said Tuesday afternoon the hotel expansion would require some tennis courts to be relocated. Four to six tennis courts would remain, and for now, resort officials are considering using seven to eight acres of the 21-acre Lawton Stables on Greenwood Drive in Sea Pines for additional courts and a new tennis center, he said.
Smith Stearns Tennis Academy uses the tennis courts that would be affected by the proposed expansion. Those courts are located on Lighthouse Road near The Inn & Club, which is on Lighthouse Lane.
“That is the best option at this time,” Birdwell said.
Smith Stearns and Lawton Stables officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Overall, Birdwell said he thinks there is support for the hotel expansion.
“We’re trying to do things in benefit of residents, so I support them,” said resident Mike Joyce, when questioned immediately after Tuesday morning’s meeting, about a planned referendum on the proposal.
According to an informational pamphlet distributed at the morning meeting, “The improvements to Harbour Town and The Inn will give a ‘village’ feel and keep this destination unlike any other on Hilton Head Island.”
It noted that Sea Pines Resort wants to invest $70 million to $100 million over the next five to 10 years at The Inn & Club and the Harbour Town Yacht Basin area, with the goal of achieving a “five-diamond/five-star resort status.”
But Dana Advocaat, a Sea Pines resident and co-administrator of the website Voices of Sea Pines, said Tuesday the hotel-expansion proposal is too vague and that she will not vote for anything until she sees more details.
“They have to give us a lot more control of our governance,” she said. “We want to stay a town with a resort in it, not a resort with a town in it.”
Advocaat said she likes what the resort has done, but contended that resort officials are “aggressive” and are only seeking to maximize profits.
“It’s a good-ol’-boy network,” she said. “And they’re going to do what they need to do to get what they want.”
Advocaat said she is concerned residents will have to pay for water and sewer lines with the hotel expansion and that a proposed new “state-of-the-art” pool at Harbour Town would require a membership fee, meaning residents would lose free access to that pool. Expanding the hotel also would increase traffic, she said.
“They’re saying 90 cars won’t make a difference,” she said. “But it will make a huge impact on the south end of the island.”
The expansion project requires the approval of both residents and the Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners, which also includes residents. Because ASPPPO is the “beneficiary of a court order limiting the rooms at Harbour Town” according to the informational pamphlet, association members must approve the referendum.
Charles Miner, president of ASPPPO, said Tuesday more than 50 percent of ASPPPO members must approve the referendum. Property owners who are in ASPPPO will have their votes counted for ASPPPO. Non-members will have ballots mailed to them. Including those in ASPPPO and those who are not, 75 percent approval is needed of Sea Pines’ approximately 6,000 property owners. There is only one vote per household, according to the informational pamphlet.
To gain ASPPPO support, resort officials have offered, among other things, to pay 0.75 percent of the resort’s total revenue, compared to the current 0.5 percent, to Sea Pines Plantation. This will result in an estimated $2.3 million over the next five years, compared to a little more than $1 million over the past five years, according to the informational pamphlet.
Miner said the proposal is a great opportunity for residents.
“I think it will have a big upward push on real estate values and move Sea Pines into a more modern facility,” he said.
He also said it is too early in the process to know how people would vote on the referendum.
If the referendum passes, there will be 12 months of design work, and ground will likely not be broken until the fall of 2018, a Sea Pines official said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Miner said there will be more resident meetings throughout the summer. In addition, Birdwell said there are legal matters that need to be finished before the referendum is put to a vote, which is planned for early fall.