Last time members of Beaufort County Council sat down to discuss a major development agreement with a property owner, negotiations ended in an impasse and the property remained vacant and undeveloped.
County leaders will soon begin negotiations with a different group — owners of the Hilton Head National Golf Club in greater Bluffton — and members of each camp say they’re hoping for a different result this time around.
“I want to manage the process differently,” Beaufort County Councilman Rick Caporale said Wednesday in reference to the Pepper Hall negotiations.
Caporale, who earlier this week was named to the newly formed Hilton Head National development agreement subcommittee, was referring to an unsuccessful attempt by the county to negotiate with the owners of a 133-acre parcel along U.S. 278 near the Okatie River.
Property owner Robert Graves wanted to build more commercial and residential units than some County Council members were comfortable with, prompting a series of unsuccessful negotiations to rein in the scope of the project.
“Talks went on forever and really never went anywhere,” Caporale said.
He said he “won’t continue to participate” in the Hilton Head National negotiations if it appears the process will be a repeat of the Pepper Hall debacle.
Councilmen Tabor Vaux and Steve Fobes join Caporale on the subcommittee, which is overseen by the council’s Natural Resources Committee.
Councilman Brian Flewelling, who leads the Natural Resources Committee, said earlier this week that he expects negotiations to conclude in two or three months “at the very latest.”
The sooner we can get all of this worked out, the better off we will be.
Attorney Wes Jones
Scratch Golf LLC, a United Company subsidiary that owns Hilton Head National, recently requested a zoning change from the County Council that would have allowed the 300-acre course to be transformed into a mini-city with the possibility of 400,000 square feet of new retail space, 500 hotel rooms, 300 apartments, 200 single-family homes, 400 assisted-living units, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, a 1,500-seat performing arts center, and a water park in the shadow of the Bluffton Parkway flyover.
Early development plans drew the ire of nearby residents, who swamped county leaders with concerned calls and emails about traffic, overcrowding, May River pollution and an increased burden on taxpayers to help subsidize infrastructure improvements.
As of Wednesday, more than 1,600 people had signed an online petition called “Stop The Hilton Head National Project!”
Earlier this month, council members voted to table the zoning change request and instead formed the subcommittee to negotiate with the property owner in hopes of addressing the neighbors’ concerns.
“I think the (development agreement subcommittee) will be very fair,” said Wes Jones, an attorney representing the property owner. “There are certainly issues that have to be resolved, but reasonable people can, most of the time, reach a compromise.”
One compromise the subcommittee likely will seek involves reducing the number of homes and businesses the developer could squeeze onto the site.
While Caporale said he has no interest in derailing the development, he will “work toward reducing density.”
Both sides say negotiations — which are expected to begin within about a week — should move swiftly.
“The sooner we can get all of this worked out, the better off we will be,” Jones said.