The Hilton Head Rowing and Sailing Center now appears fit for launch, picking up approval Tuesday from a town design board.
The center is to be built off Squire Pope Road, along Skull Creek. It will feature a pier for fishing and crabbing; a floating dock for launching boats; fenced boat storage; a 1,400-square-foot picnic pavilion; and restrooms, according to final plans approved unanimously by the Town of Hilton Head Island's Design Review Board.
However, the project may return to harbor if the town decides to build a portion of the dock out of a material other than southern yellow pine, as planned.
The board looked at photos of floating docks built from plastics Tuesday, but some members said they would not approve of the material because it looks -- as board member Jake Gartner described -- "cheap."
"You're asking for a rowing center, and you want it to look pretty, but how functional will it be for the rowing community?" asked Lou Strayer, coach of the Hilton Head Island Crew and member of the Carolina Sailing Center and Palmetto Rowing Club.
Strayer urged the town board and staff to build the plastic docks, which he said were "accepted as standard in the rowing community."
Wood might become slippery when wet, and sea water will warp and erode the planks quicker than a plastic dock, Strayer said.
He said one of the rowing club's boats was punctured last week by a screw that had loosened from the warped, wooden planks of a county-built dock on Pinckney Island.
Only a small percentage of island residents would likely see the dock, and safety should override aesthetics in this instance, according to board member Galen Smith, who said he is a boat owner who has slipped on wet, wooden docks.
The town will consider plastic-dock materials as a design alternative in the construction bidding process, but the decision to use them will depend on their cost, which was unavailable Tuesday, project manager and assistant town engineer Bryan McIlwee said.
"I have a budget that I have to maintain. If (the plastic dock) is close to the same, then we'll have to make a decision on functionality and what serves the community the best," McIlwee said.
If the project gets the necessary state permits as expected, the construction bidding could begin later this spring, said McIlwee.
The design was criticized at previous meetings because it did not offer convenient water access for kayaks and small sailboats. Among the critics was Strayer, who called for a beach launching site.
The plans reviewed Tuesday did not include a beach launch because state permitting agencies would not approve dumping sand on the shoreline, according to project architect Tom Parker Jr., who is on the review board but abstained from voting.
Todd Theodore, who works for Wood + Partners, which collaborated with Parker's firm Lee & Parker Architects and Applied Technology Management, also abstained from voting.
Construction, which could begin in early fall, is estimated to cost $760,000 and would be funded by the town's tax increment financing revenue, town public projects director Scott Liggett said last month. The town would also contribute $67,000 a year for operation and maintenance costs.
The Hilton Head Island Recreation Center will manage the center with help from rowing and sailing clubs and coaches. The rec center is considering developing adventure camps and kayaking and youth sailing programs at the park, according to Frank Soule, its executive director. He said any new costs to the center would be covered by program fees.