Despite the fact that there is little they can do to stop it, Bluffton town leaders Wednesday joined a growing chorus of opposition to the proposed redevelopment of Hilton Head National Golf Club.
“I don’t want to be Myrtle Beach. I don’t want to be Savannah. I don’t want to be Charleston,” Bluffton Town Councilman Fred Hamilton said during a joint meeting between town and Beaufort County officials. “I want to be Bluffton — we need to remain Bluffton.”
Hamilton’s comments came on the heels of a meeting earlier in the day hosted by the Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Beaufort County Councilman Tabor Vaux. More than 50 people attended to ask questions and express their concerns about the planned project.
The course’s owner, Scratch Golf LLC, had asked the county for a zoning change that could have allowed the construction of up to 700,000 square feet of retail space, 400 apartments, 500 single-family homes, an assisted-living facility, a 125,0000-square-foot convention center and a 1,500-seat performing arts center by 2030.
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The massive project would also require significant infrastructure improvements such as a new public school, a fire and police substation, and major expansions to roads, county documents show.
The zoning request, which had the potential to transform a large swath of greater Bluffton, has been tabled.
A Beaufort County Council subcommittee led by Vaux will soon begin negotiations with the property owner in an attempt to draft a development agreement addressing concerns about overcrowding, traffic, infrastructure cost, and pollution of local waterways.
While Vaux has acknowledged that “the golf course isn’t likely to stay a golf course forever,” he has also vowed to limit the scope of development “and put the brakes on this thing.”
He said Wednesday that negotiations — likely to begin within the next two weeks — are “going to come down to reasonableness.”
An online petition called “Stop The Hilton Head National Project!” had nearly 2,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
Collins Doughtie, a resident who started the petition, said Wednesday that if locals “don’t get involved, you’re going to get what you get.”
“Binding together as a group ... is the only way we are going to change what’s going on,” Doughtie, who writes a weekly column for The Island Packet, said.
Resident Margie Fox said, “We are suffering in Bluffton from density issues due to poorly planned developments.”
Because Hilton Head National falls just outside town limits, Bluffton’s elected officials have little control over what type of development is allowed on the site.
That didn’t stop town leaders from echoing residents’ concerns Wednesday.
Town Councilman Harry Lutz said, “I’m concerned with the quality of life that I moved here for six years ago.”
“We need to try to control growth,” he said.
Town Councilman Dan Wood agreed, saying “without smart growth ... (U.S.) 278 is going to be a parking lot.”
Bluffton Town Council members plan to draft an official letter of opposition to the project, which is expected to be presented to county leaders next week.
Those county officials welcomed the input from their Bluffton counterparts Wedensday, and some even expressed the similar concerns.
“We are growing by sprawl, and we are going to grow ourselves right out of business,” Beaufort County Councilman Jerry Stewart said. “...We are not doing smart development in southern Beaufort County.”
Vaux said the path toward smart development “starts with dealing with this Hilton Head National project.”