Slowly but surely, once-wary developers and businesses have taken another look at Hilton Head Island and dusted off plans put aside during the economic slowdown, particularly for projects near Mathews Drive.
Koji and Kimiko Shimada have spent about $100,000 updating their 16,000-square-foot retail center that includes the Yummy House at 2 Southwood Drive, replacing the outdated facade, installing a new sidewalk, repaving the parking lot and sprucing up landscaping.
Advanced Auto Parts recently got town approval to renovate a vacant building at the intersection of Shrimp Lane and Mathews Drive.
Dunkin' Donuts opened in March in a former bank building in the Southwood Plaza.
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The area exemplifies the progress made and the challenges that remain as the town encourages rehabilitation of outdated properties, land management official Teri Lewis said.
Getting permits for new commercial developments used to be a slow, daunting process, Lewis said. But the process was streamlined last fall, and developers and architects say dealing with the town is now easier, faster and more predictable."We had a reasonably smooth process," said Tom Shimada, who is overseeing the work at Southwood Drive for his parents. "We are pretty happy with our dealings and interactions with the town."
Placing Advanced Auto was trickier, demonstrating the need to overhaul land restrictions and zoning -- a 15-month-long process that should soon be coming to a head, Lewis said.
The auto-parts company has hoped to open on Hilton Head for several years and had considered various options before settling on the Mathews Drive building because of its size, location and layout, according to town planners. The building, however, was zoned for light-industrial use, which allows auto rental and repairs but not retail sales, despite being beside a commercial corridor.
Town staff opposed rezoning the property, arguing that vacant commercial buildings nearby are suitably zoned. Town Council disagreed and approved the rezoning July 3.Town officials say the regulations, formed to slow rapid growth in the 1990s, are now hindrances for businesses and residents who want to update their properties.
Growth-management consultant Clarion Associates is rewriting the land-management ordinance and recent changes have made the planning code more flexible, but haven't done enough to remove obstacles, say members of a town committee guiding the consultant's work.
The committee hopes to show a draft of a revised land management ordinance to the public by the end of November -- one that consolidates zoning districts, allows a broader range of land uses and reduces building restrictions, said committee member David Ames.
"We're not throwing the baby out with the bath water," he said. "We're adding flexibility without sacrificing protection, providing broader options that aren't as constraining while conforming to core standards and character of this island -- blend with nature, protect the environment and manage tree cover as part of an island forest."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.