The unanimous vote came after members of the Planning and Development Standards Committee said it is not the town's job to selectively bail people out of failed investments. The issue will ultimately be decided by the full council, which is expected to give the request the first of two readings at a meeting June 18.
The developers group -- 217 Beach City Road LLC -- includes six native islanders. Developers say their lender will foreclose on the property if it is not rezoned to allow more homes to be built. They want their Beach City Place development rezoned to allow up to 12 homes per acre, an increase from the current 4 homes allowed. Only one house has been built on the 32-lot property since 2009. The new plan calls for 96 additional homes, a mix of townhomes and flats, said Rand Hanna, an attorney for the developers.
Allowing more homes could make the project more economically viable, according to Chet Williams, another attorney representing the developers.
Hilton Head Island Town Councilman George Williams, who also sits on the planning committee, said he is concerned that if the town allows the rezoning in this instance, it could set a precedent that encourages "numerous people ... who are financially strapped and losing their property to foreclosure" to seek rezoning to save their investments.
"I don't think we're in the business of picking and choosing," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by fellow council and committee member Bill Harkins, who said "zoning is not a tool to selectively correct investment failures."
The committee's decision follows a 5-3 vote earlier this month by the town's Planning Commission recommending the request be approved.
Several other groups have weighed against the request, including town staff, Beaufort County government, the S.C. Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Risks associated with the land's proximity to the Hilton Head Island Airport runway -- about 3,000 feet from its north end -- and its location within the airport's approach path and partially within the outer hazard zone were central to the objections by town, county, state and federal authorities.
The Aeronautics Commission said more homes that close to the runway would subject homeowners to "major safety and quality-of-life risks" and might make it difficult for the airport to get funding and permission for future runway extensions.
However, the focus Wednesday remained on the developer's financial issues.
"I don't believe it's an airport issue at all," said councilman and committee member John McCann. "I think it's a matter of density. I think it's a matter of an investment that went bad and looking at the town to make the correction on the investment."