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After apartment plan withdrawal, what can go on Hilton Head Christian Academy site?

Some Bluffton residents worry football games will be too noisy at new high school

Hilton Head Christian Academy gets their site plan approved by Town of Bluffton for new school campus.
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Hilton Head Christian Academy gets their site plan approved by Town of Bluffton for new school campus.

Tuesday’s withdrawal of an application to rezone Hilton Head Christian Academy’s campus for 300 apartments left some asking: What will happen to the space once the school leaves in 2020?

The property is currently zoned for commercial office, retail, institutional or public recreational uses, according to the Town of Hilton Head Island zoning map and the Indigo Run Master Plan.

However, Spandrel Development Partners is under contract with Hilton Head Christian to purchase the property, according to Spandrel’s legal counsel, Walter Nester.

That means that a binding contract makes the sale unavailable to other buyers — for now.

Achieving the rezoning is a contingency of that contract, Nester said. If it doesn’t happen, the contract could be canceled.

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An aerial view of the Hilton Head Christian Academy on Hilton Head Island. The school will be moving to a Bluffton campus for the 2020 school year. Town of Hilton Head Island, released.

Here are three things that could happen to the property:

1. Spandrel could apply again for apartments

Since the legal counsel withdrew the developer’s application before it was voted down by council, it gives them flexibility to submit a “substantially similar” application for the site without having a waiting period, according to town code.

Spandrel may apply with a different number of apartments or building heights, according to Nester.

“That was the purpose for doing that,” he said Wednesday of withdrawing the application. “We’re going back and considering those comments. We’ll see what we can do to perhaps address those concerns, and then we would come back.”

A member of the public addresses the public planning committee about the proposal for rezoning the Hilton Head Christian Academy site for around 300 apartments on Monday, April 1. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

2. A retailer could buy and develop the space

If the contract were to be canceled, another firm could purchase the campus and develop it for office space or retail.

This would not require rezoning the property, which right now allows 10,000 square feet per net acre for some retail uses, according to the zoning map.

That could be in the form of a big-box store with outbuildings, according to Spandrel’s presentation on Tuesday.

“If a Costco or a Walmart wanted to come in and build something, it would have the right,” Nester said.

3. Spandrel could develop something other than apartments

If the rezoning contingency is dropped from the contract, Spandrel could develop anything from a retail center to a public park on the property.

However, that’s unlikely.

“Spandrel is an apartment developer,” Nester said. “The odds are not great that that would occur.”

Other parties involved in the development team said the same thing in front of Town Council on Tuesday.

“We don’t believe we need additional retail on the island,” said Mark Baker of Wood + Partners land planning and landscape architecture firm. “What is needed is additional workforce housing.”

But the housing — originally priced at $1,200 to $2,400 per month — would have appealed to “mid- and higher-level income” workers, Baker said.

This sign on northern Hilton Head Island may not be needed much longer as the school announced plans on Jan. 27, 2017 to move to Bluffton in the near future. Hilton Head Christian Academy

What’s next?

While the town can technically purchase any land, Nester said that could not happen while the property is under contract with Spandrel.

As it moves forward, neighbors in Old Woodlands Plantation were torn on what they want to see on the Hilton Head Christian campus site.

While some emphasized workforce housing that would be closer to the $875 monthly rent outlined by the town’s housing consultant, others worried about crime and crowding that could come with tons of new apartments.

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A screenshot from the Assessment of Workforce Housing Needs for Hilton Head, presented by Sturtevant & Associates. The table shows the median incomes of 11 industries on Hilton Head. The study defines “workforce housing” as units that rent for $875 per month or less. Assessment of Workforce Housing Needs, Sturtevant & Associates

“I’m still not super thrilled,” Old Woodlands resident Sandy Entrup said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We are already surrounded by affordable housing.”

Hilton Head Gardens and The Oaks are both near to the soon-to-be-empty site.

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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.