The 200 people who packed Town Hall on Tuesday to talk about plans for Hilton Head Island's Coligny area made one thing clear: parking and traffic issues must be addressed first.
"It's just a nightmare, and everybody knows it," said Karen Tremarelli, owner of three businesses in the area.
Until Coligny's traffic and parking needs are addressed, Tremarelli said she doesn't see how any plan to revitalize the area could be considered.
Tuesday's public meeting was the first of two held this week to gather citizen input on major projects planned by the town. A meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall will focus on plans to build a linear park connecting the redeveloped Shelter Cove Towne Centre with Chaplin Community Park.
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Officials from Wood + Partners, an island architectural firm, will factor in audience suggestions from Tuesday's meeting into the three Coligny designs it brings to another public meeting in about eight weeks, said Kyle Theodore, a principle at the firm.
Regardless of the design, the town faces a tight deadline.
It has until December 2014 to allocate about a total of $7.5 million in tax increment financing for various public works projects, said town manager Steve Riley.
Redevelopment plans in Coligny have been discussed for more than 15 years, he said. Conceptual plans that Town Council approved in August are the 19th the town has considered for the area.
Those plans call for a University of South Carolina Beaufort classroom building on about 10 acres of undeveloped land on Pope Avenue between Nassau Street and the entrance to the town's beach parking lot.
The university building would include, among other things, classrooms, a demonstration kitchen for culinary instruction, and library space for about 400 juniors and seniors, many of whom have internships at Hilton Head restaurants and hotels, said USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw.
The building would also offer a place for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute courses, which Upshaw said would improve the quality of life and bring people to the area's shops and restaurants in months with less tourist traffic.
However, a show-of-hands vote of residents at the meeting who live in the North and South Forest Beach neighborhoods, which line both sides of Pope Avenue, was strongly against the facility. About 80 residents raised their hands in opposition. Only two voted for it.
"I simply don't see why a hospitality program couldn't be on a less-valuable piece of property," Forest Beach Owners Association president Jack Daly said.
Daly and other residents said they would prefer the 10-acre space be developed as a park and used to offer more parking.
George Paletta said he supports USCB coming to the island, but suggested the facility be built on Office Park Road, further from the traffic problems near Coligny Circle. Others noted that location would also be close to bars popular with college students
The plan, however, also had supporters, including former USCB students and Sean Barth, who runs the hospitality management internship program.
He said having a facility "in the middle of all the action is what puts us in the mix (with students) of the greatest places to go."
"We have to keep moving forward," he said. "We have to look at new ideas."
Jack Alderman, who said he was among the group that encouraged USCB to open its campus in Bluffton, said he was "very excited about the possibility" of the college coming to Hilton Head. He encouraged residents to keep an open mind about the plans.
Mayor Drew Laughlin said after the meeting that he agreed with Alderman.
"We have to embrace the planning process and let it work," he said.
He said bringing USCB to the island could be culturally and economically "transformative" and improve the quality of island life.
Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.