Go-karts: inside vs. outside? Hilton Head zoning board debates plan for outdoor track

Start your engines — the go-karts have been approved.

Hilton Head Island’s board of zoning appeals decided Monday to allow an outdoor electric go-kart track on a 16-acre property off Marshland Road. The go-kart track will join the Aerial Adventure Park, Up the Creek Pub and Grill and Broad Creek Marina.

Property owner Roger Freedman applied to build a 750- to 800-foot outdoor electric go-kart track in August 2018, The Island Packet previously reported.

After several rounds of feedback, town staff said the land management ordinance had to be amended to allow the outdoor facility. Previously, the town’s land ordinance allowed go-kart tracks only indoors.

But the board decided unanimously to overturn town staff’s decision and allow the track outdoors in the zoning district where Freedman’s property sits.

Next, the property owners will apply to the town’s design review board for input on its style and placement on the property. It’s likely to be at least a year before the go-karts cross the starting line, according to Nate Jones, general manager of Broad Creek Marina Adventures.

When it opens, it will be the only go-kart racetrack on the island.

“Local families like to have places to go with their kids and their grand kids ... a place to have birthday parties,” Ellis Lesemann, legal counsel for the property, told the board on Monday. “It relates to my client’s vision for the island, (it’s) another unique option that is available to residents and tourists.”

Board of Zoning Appeals meeting agenda package

The list of appropriate uses for land on Hilton Head was written in the early 2000s, according to Teri Lewis, deputy director of community development. When go-karts were listed as appropriate only indoors, Lewis said that was deliberate.

“When I see it specifically listed as ‘indoor,’ what I interpret is that Town Council considered go-kart tracks and opted to put it in the indoor category,” she said.

Opponents of the go-karts were concerned about the noise traditionally associated with racetracks, but the new track will feature electric go-karts — which rely on an electric motor and rechargeable batteries instead of gas motors.

Red Bull, a popular sponsor of professional go-karting, released a report last year detailing the differences between gas and electric karts.

“They produce no harmful gases that pollute the environment, which also makes it possible to use them in indoor facilities,” blogger Darshan Chokhani said about electric go-kart alternatives. “Furthermore, they can be used in and around residential areas since they produce very little noise.”

Freedman said in October he believes residents in the area won’t be disturbed by the outdoor track.

“The noise from the marina will be louder than the go-karts,” Freedman said in reference to the day-to-day boat activity.

Go cart free for use.JPG
Families visiting Hilton Head Island may be able to enjoy go-karts by spring of 2019. These go-karts may not represent the exact model proposed for Hilton Head. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason J. Brown released

What’s next?

Jones said the owners will apply to the design review board very soon.

“We would love to be open next summer, (but) we realize that’s a very lofty goal at this point,” he said.

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Google Maps

Jones said there are likely to be between 15 and 20 go-karts on the track, and that his staff is excited to start working on Hilton Head’s newest attraction.

“We appreciate and are pleased with the board of zoning appeals’ unanimous decision to reverse the (town’s) decision,” Jones said. “We just hope that island residents and tourists alike are pleased with the decision.”

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.