There was an empty seat next to Beaufort County Councilman Brian Flewelling during a meeting of the Northern Regional Plan Implementation Committee Friday morning.
The seat, Flewelling said, was saved for Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett.
The seat remained unoccupied while the committee — tasked with managing growth and planning issues north of the Broad River — discussed the proposal to annex Bay Point Island from Beaufort County into Hilton Head Island for the purpose of building an upscale resort.
“If (Bennett and other Hilton Head officials) want to annex property in northern Beaufort County, he should have a seat at this table,” Flewelling said. “He should be a part of this.”
A call to Bennett seeking comment Friday afternoon was not returned.
“We were not notified — we had no clue (of development or annexation plans) until we saw it in the paper,” county administrator Gary Kubic told the committee Friday.
There are lingering questions that need to be discussed, such as whether the town could adequately provide services such as fire and police protection for the resort, he said.
“None of those discussions occurred” prior to the Hilton Head Island Town Council voting earlier this week to start the annexation process, Kubic said. “And they still have not occurred.”
In addition to frustration over lack of communication with the island’s owner Bay Point LLC and town leaders, the committee expressed concerns about the potential resort development itself.
This is where we live. This is our environment.
Beaufort County Councilman Paul Sommerville
Flewelling said the island’s proximity to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island could create “some security concerns.”
County Councilman Paul Sommerville said, “there are a billion reasons why I don’t think (Bay Point Island) should be developed at high-density level,” including loss of public beach access and negative impacts on bird habitats.
He worried that the resort developer — Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas out of Bangkok, Thailand — may put profits ahead of preservation of an environmentally sensitive area of the county.
For the Six Senses, the project may be little more than an investment, Sommerville said, but “this is not just a roll of the dice for us.”
“This is where we live,” he said. “This is our environment.”