After months of remaining quiet on the proposed Hilton Head National Golf Club redevelopment, Bluffton leaders are breaking their silence and vowing to get involved in the controversial project.
“We have asked to come to table and have an opportunity to weigh in on a development agreement,” Bluffton town manager Marc Orlando said earlier this week.
In the aftermath of Monday’s marathon Beaufort County Council meeting — which saw locals pack council chambers to speak out against the proposal before the board voted to table an important zoning request that would have kick-started the project — Bluffton Town Council members say they want a seat at the table when details are hashed out. While the project falls outside the town limits, the proposed project would have a major effect on traffic, infrastructure and potentially, May River water quality.
“This is a case where we are paying attention whether it’s our jurisdiction or not,” Bluffton Councilman Dan Wood said.
We will get vocal.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka
Residents of nearby neighborhoods have been critical of early plans for the project, which include 400,000 square feet of new retail space, 500 hotel rooms, 300 apartments, 200 single-family homes, 400 assisted-living units, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, a 1,500-seat performing arts center, and a water park in the shadow of the newly finished Bluffton Parkway flyover.
As of Wednesday, more than 1,500 people had signed an online petition called “Stop The Hilton Head National Project!”
County Council members plan to form a subcommittee to negotiate a development agreement with the property owner — Scratch Golf LLC — in an attempt to mitigate these issues.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said town leaders “have made a stance” on wanting more involvement in the process.
“We will get vocal,” she said.
We will be in the fight, but we have to wait until we have the opportunity to put our gloves on.
Bluffton Town Councilman Larry Toomer
“If they were putting an oil well there, we would be vocal,” Wood said. “We have an opportunity to be vocal now, and we hear (opponents of the redevelopment proposal) loud and clear.”
One of those opponents, Donna Della Rosa, said earlier this week, “We are blessed to live in this beautiful community — we have beautiful trees, a beautiful river.
“We are really lucky to live where we do,” she said. But rapid growth and giant developments are eroding “the identity of Bluffton.”
Councilman Fred Hamilton said he is in favor of “slowing down development” and supports measures that help Bluffton maintain its character and charm.
“I was born and raised here,” he said. “I understand the concern over all these changes and how it affects who we are and what our vision as town is.”
What role town leaders could play in the coming discussions on Hilton Head National is unclear given the county’s development agreement subcommittee has yet to be formed, negotiations with the property owners haven’t started, and town leaders have no official jurisdiction over the unincorporated Beaufort County property.
Councilman Larry Toomer acknowledged this uncertainty.
“We will be in the fight,” Toomer said, “but we have to wait until we have the opportunity to put our gloves on.”