Beaufort County Council members voted overwhelmingly Monday to deny a rezoning application that could have paved the way for a large redevelopment project at the Hilton Head National Golf Club in greater Bluffton.
Locals filled the large meeting room at the Bluffton library Monday night, with dozens spilling out into an adjacent hallway.
Most of the nearly 200 people on hand were there for a single reason: to speak out against redevelopment proposals.
Monday night’s meeting represented the first time the full council weighed in on the project since January, when it was referred to a subcommittee tasked with negotiating a development agreement with the course owners.
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Course owners Scratch Golf, LCC and parent firm the United Company were seeking a zoning change that could have allowed development on the entire parcel, with preliminary plans calling for the possibility of building 300 apartments, 300 homes, 400,000 square feet of retail space, 125,000 square feet of office space, a 500-room hotel, a 400-bed assisted-living facility, a 1,500-seat performing arts center, a convention center and a water park.
County leaders offered a counter-proposal in late March that would have limited development to no more than 130 acres. The remainder of the property would have been required to retain its current rural zoning.
That proposal was rebuffed, and negotiations between the course owners and the subcommittee collapsed.
Rick Sweet told the council that the project team and course owners “had lost all credibility” with local residents.
United Company president Martin Kent defended the project prior to the council’s vote but acknowledged the process “has been a journey.”
He said the project is “a vision for something different” and the owners have met and even exceeded county requirements for zoning requests.
Resident Chris Short disagreed, saying the project “is not out-of-the-box thinking,” before urging the council not to support the request.
Chuck Dulcie said the development “would just ruin our way of life.”
Jimmy McIntire said “it is insane” to think a project of the scope proposed by course owners would improve the quality of life for greater Bluffton residents.
Cheers and applause from the crowd followed many such comments, which focused mainly on concerns about traffic, overcrowding, and environmental and water quality degradation.
“It scares me to death,” Alda Barfield said. “We are at a tipping point” in terms of development in the area.
Several of those who attended the at times chaotic meeting Monday night voiced concerns with the county’s Comprehensive Development Code, a regulatory document meant to provide a guide for zoning decisions.
Councilman Tabor Vaux, who led the disbanded negotiating subcommittee, said the scope of the project could threaten the well-being of the community.
He said the owners request “was unreasonable in size, scope and magnitude.”
Councilman Brian Flewelling — who made a failed motion to reconvene a development agreement subcommittee to continue negotiations with the course owners — was the sole member of the body to vote in favor of the zoning request.
Though he expressed some reservations about the lack of specificity of owners’ plan, Flewelling said the zoning approval process has been fraught with “drama” and “arbitrary and capricious” decision making.
Course owners must now decide whether to bring forth a new rezoning application, which would first go before the Beaufort County Planning Commission.
Kent said after the vote that the course owners are “obviously disappointed” in the decision.
He said the owners would consult with legal council prior to making any further decisions on the future of the property.