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‘White government taking power’? Native islander rights raised in Hilton Head zoning bid

Native islanders' rights raised in Hilton Head debate

Cheri Gould, a Hilton Head Plantation resident, spoke on behalf of the rights of native islanders at Tuesday's town council meeting.
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Cheri Gould, a Hilton Head Plantation resident, spoke on behalf of the rights of native islanders at Tuesday's town council meeting.

For months, Bradley Circle residents have pressed Hilton Head Town Council to rezone their neighborhood from resort development to residential.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, during the final reading of the ordinance, the fight against rezoning brought native islander issues to the forefront.

Council member Marc Grant moved to exclude the land owned by Robert Singleton, a native islander, and two adjacent parcels from the area being rezoned. His motion was approved. Because the final version of the ordinance was amended, another reading is required at the next meeting on Oct. 3.

“Him and another are the only native islanders in the area. It’s a family owned property,” Grant said during Tuesday’s meeting. “If we allow it to go (to residential), it takes away his value. And if it does, I ask the town compensate him for his loss.”

The construction of 75-foot, resort-style houses on Bradley Circle is what prompted residents to request a zoning change. Residents fear the houses and future developments will ruin the character of the neighborhood. Concerns about the impact on the environment and safety have also been raised.

More than 15 individuals spoke at Tuesday’s meeting for and against rezoning the area. About half a dozen raised concerns about the rights of native islanders, specifically those of Singleton.

“The Gullah people just want to be left alone,” said Mel Campbell, a native islander, at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think (Singleton) is within his rights from a town perspective and also from a development perspective.”

Singleton has said previously he does not want his zoning to change. He spoke for just a few seconds at Tuesday’s meeting to reiterate his request.

They found some support.

“The native islanders came to this island long before any of us did. They came here as newly freed slaves, created homes on this island, before we did,” said Cheri Gould, when addressing Town Council. “If you don’t listen to the voices of the native islanders when you make decisions about their island, you risk being just another white government taking power.”

Gould said Wednesday those residents concerned about losing the character of their neighborhood have a point, but they have lost sympathy for the plight of native islanders.

“(Singleton) is just another example of so many other Gullah people who have been excluded from prospering on this island,” Gould said.

But not all residents see this as a native islander issue.

“I’m a bit taken aback that the issue was brought up,” Tamara Becker, who is in favor of rezoning the entire area back to residential, said Wednesday. “Native islanders is a separate discussion. This is about zoning.”

Ronda Carper, another resident of Bradley Circle, said she didn’t understand how Town Council members could vote in favor of rezoning the neighborhood at their Aug. 1 meeting and then change their minds at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think we should be looking at laws and the purpose and intent of (the LMO),” Carper said. “Why make rules if we aren’t going to follow them?”

Bradley Circle was originally zoned resort development, Teri Lewis, LMO official said at Tuesday’s meeting.

In 2004, it was changed to residential, and in 2014, it was changed back to resort development.

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