Good for Hilton Head Island Town Council for denying -- albeit narrowly -- a rezoning request to add homes to a subdivision that is less than 3,000 feet from the north end of the airport's runway.
The neighborhood, off Beach City Road, has just one home in it now. The zoning change would have allowed for up to eight homes per acre instead of four, doubling the density allowed on the site. The plan, according to the developer's attorney, was to build duplexes.
While we are pleased to see developers interested in building housing following the recession, this plan could have put residents in harm's way and jeopardized the county's long-range plans for its airport. Unlike many rezoning feuds that are simply cases of not-in-my-backyard, this one posed serious risks.
The property falls within the approach path used by planes and is partially within a hazard zone that has a high probability of plane crashes. That's why both the S.C. Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration objected to the rezoning request. Town staff and the county administration did so also.
A minority of council members argued that the safety concerns were overstated and that the danger existed whether the property was rezoned or not.
We agree that the subdivision's proximity to the airport is dangerous and that the town should have never approved the property for residential use. It's unfortunate that one home already exists on the site. But it's too late to have that debate. All the town can do now is prevent additional homes from being built.
Unfortunately, it would be difficult for the town to stop any homes from going up as its current zoning allows for it. And the town would likely face a long and expensive fight with the developer if it attempted to block any residential development.
Instead, we hope the developer, HSSC LLC, which purchased the property out of foreclosure in September, will seek another use for the property that will not jeopardize the safety of people on the ground.
Beyond the risk to lives, the rezoning poses economic risks. The Aeronautics Commission correctly noted that rezoning would make it difficult for the airport to get funding and permission for runway extensions.
The county is already facing a long list of hurdles for lengthening its runway, including neighbors sick of plane noise and tree-trimming and not convinced the extension is needed. The extension may never happen if the town starts throwing up road blocks, as well.
Kudos to Town Council for sticking with the county on this one, and ensuring the safety of residents too.