The letter to the editor said what a lot of people are thinking.
“As a result of the growth and projected growth of Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Hardeeville, why is there no discussion of establishing a new county incorporating these areas?”
The question comes after a flurry of headlines like these:
▪ “Game-changing Jasper port finally has a timeline.”
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▪ “Possible Hilton Head National Golf Course redevelopment could transform greater Bluffton.”
▪ “It’s five o’clock in Hardeeville — Margaritaville coming soon.”
▪ “First Margaritaville, now this. Plans made for 20K-person community along U.S. 278.”
Conceptual plans are staggering:
A $4.5 billion, bi-state port project near the bridge to Savannah with the potential to create 1 million jobs and $9 billion in tax revenue between Georgia and South Carolina.
The possibility at Hilton Head National on the mainland near the bridge to Hilton Head for 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. That was scaled back, but still turned down by Beaufort County Council. It’s now in court.
Plans for the 55 years-and-older Latitude Margaritaville Hilton Head, which is to be in Hardeeville, call for the construction of about 3,000 homes and a 290,000-square-foot retail center.
Preliminary details for the new East Argent community, a project expected to break ground next year on a roughly 7,300-acre plot near Sun City Hilton Head, which is in Okatie, include the construction of 9,500 homes and apartments and 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space, with the potential to bring in more than 20,000 new residents.
Which brings us to the letter to the editor.
All of this will have a direct impact on Hardeeville, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island, Jasper County and Beaufort County — yet not all of those entities always have a seat at the table as their world gets overturned.
Could we put it all in one basket, with a new county?
Could we really have Bluffghanistan? Would Hilton Head split off to be a continent unto its own called Culdesackistan?
Yes, it is possible to carve out new counties in South Carolina.
The methodology is spelled out in the state Constitution. In general, it takes a petition signed by one-third of qualified electors in the area proposed for a new county, then a vote of “yes” by two-thirds of the qualified electors in that area. But there are a lot of other requirements, including the land mass and tax base needed for both the new county and the old county.
I guess it could be done. But the last time South Carolina got a new county was when Allendale County was formed almost a century ago, in 1919.
And the last time a portion of one county up and left for another county was when Edisto Beach switched from Charleston County to Colleton County, recalls Tim Winslow, deputy general counsel with the South Carolina Association of Counties.
In the early 1990s, a pretty serious effort was mounted to split the Beaufort County School District into three separate districts: north of the Broad River, south of the Broad River, and Daufuskie Island. It came out of Hilton Head. Parents said the school board was dysfunctional and the administration asleep at the wheel. Some things never change. Though petitions were circulated, that effort, seen by many as elitism, failed.
We’ve heard forever that Beaufort County should be split above and below the Broad River. And just Thursday, a parent suggested at a joint school board and School Improvement Council meeting that the school district should be split.
But splitting up into smaller pieces is not a good idea. We need to see the big picture, not the small snapshot.
But it is a good idea to have more regional input on what is transforming this region.
More multi-jurisdictional agreements could be the answer, and Winslow said they can cross county lines.
Someone responsible even suggested to me once that Beaufort and Jasper counties should be merged into one. Why not?
As Joe Riley neared the end of his remarkable 40-year tenure as mayor of Charleston, that whole area was exploding with new industries and thousands of homes. They are building so much stuff in Charleston today that it’s a wonder it has not sunk under its own weight to form the Atlantic Ocean.
But I motored up beautiful U.S. 17 to ask the wise one what we could do to keep from ruining the Lowcountry. Riley’s soft, high-toned Lowcountry lilt, and his bushy eyebrows over preppy glasses and neat necktie, belied the power of his words.
He said that instead of stamping out brush fires caused by idiotic, greedy growth proposals — annexations to skirt regulations, raids of protected and low-lying land, condos proposed for historic islands, 4,000-home developments plopped down on winding oak lanes — Lowcountry leaders and citizens need to establish regional ethics and principles to guide growth. They must cross jurisdictional lines, and we must live by those principles.
No longer is the Lowcountry dirt poor, and it should learn to say “no.”
“I tell my staff, I tell myself: It’s got to pass the 50-year test,” Riley said. “What will this mean in 50 years?”
Much of what is sprawling out over the Lowcountry landscape today makes no contribution to the public good, he said. In fact, it causes overcrowded schools, congested roadways and ruined natural resources.
“It’s just STUFF,” Riley said.
He cited the advantages of economic growth. He pointed to many examples in the Charleston area.
But he said growth has to be done right. Now we know how to build effective neighborhoods that actually link to each other, offer ways to stay out of the car, promote outdoor recreation, encourage diversity and keep prime spots open for the public. We know what roads cost. We know what ruins the waterways.
“If you look through history,” Riley said, “the greatest successes are attributed to those who understood exactly who they were and where they stood in time, not the ones who looked back a generation later and asked what happened.”
So, to the letter writer, I say we’re all in this together and we must understand exactly who we are — together.