Plans for a proposed linear park to eventually link the beach with Shelter Cove raised environmental and safety concerns Wednesday among residents and a town commission.
The Hilton Head Island Planning Commission signed off on the plan for the Chaplin Linear Park after a 7-2 vote, but will send a letter to town officials asking that those issues be examined further.
Julie Hallquist, an advocate for the Folly Inlet Initiative, a group formed to protect The Folly area, urged the commission to consider rerouting the park. She was among about 30 people who attended the meeting.
She objected to a boardwalk that would span The Folly, a tidal creek that flows into the ocean at Burkes Beach. The boardwalk would extend to the proposed Collier Beach Park.
Since the late 1990s, the town has wanted to use the Collier site for a small park with handicapped parking, a bathroom and a turnaround drive.
The Collier site, however, was not part of the plan the commission was asked to consider Wednesday. But many in the audience feared the linear park's eventual link to the site.
Hallquist said the area floods regularly, which would lead to additional maintenance costs for the town. The flooding would also cause pollution from the proposed parking lot to enter The Folly. She said the town should link the linear park to the beach access at the end of Burkes Beach Road instead.
"It's not a question of if it's going to flood. It's when it's going to flood," Hallquist said. "How can you conscionably put a bathroom ... in that type of environment?"
Commission members were also concerned about the beach route.
"I have strong feelings against putting a boardwalk across the marsh," said commission Chairwoman Gail Quick. She called the area "almost spiritual in nature."
"I'm convinced that any section that is put over the marsh and has a shadow is going to damage the animal life and vegetation we have in the marsh," she said.
Collier park's proposed beachhead has been argued for more than a decade. It had been tied up in courts for years, with some residents of the Singleton Beach community fighting access to the public land, said Charles Cousins, town director of community development. The courts have sided with the town, allowing it to create the park, Cousins said.
Another concern was the width of a 300-foot-long path along William Hilton Parkway that would link with the linear park near Shelter Cove.
Commissioner David Bennett called it too narrow and dangerously close to the busy highway. Other members echoed his concern.
Town comprehensive planning manager Shawn Colin said the town would negotiate with the property owners at 644 William Hilton Parkway and 648 William Hilton Parkway for rights of way to possibly widen the path.
The proposal still faces the town's Design Review Board. The linear park has been approved by Town Council.
Chaplin Linear Park, estimated to cost $2.3 million, is one of several capital projects the town is trying to pay for with about $13.6 million from a tax-increment finance district. The town has a December 2014 deadline to commit the money.
Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.