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NY apartment developers back with new plan for 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.

At first, Spandrel Development Partners didn’t succeed in selling Hilton Head Island residents and town leaders on a 300-apartment development for the soon-to-be-vacated Hilton Head Christian Academy campus.

So as expected, they’re trying again.

The new plan brings the number of apartments down from 300 to 260, increases the minimum rental period from 90 to 120 days and decreases the height of two of the four proposed apartment buildings, according to renderings presented by the New York-based developers on Thursday to nearby residents.

Those residents were heard loud and clear at Hilton Head Town Council meetings in March and April, where two hours of public criticism of the plan led the developers to withdraw the application and go back to the drawing board.

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The most current plan for the Hilton Head Christian Academy campus by Spandrel Development Partners. A previous application to rezone the site for 300 apartments was withdrawn after two hours of public comment on the issue on April 2. Spandrel Development Partners, released.

Spandrel, which has an office in Charleston and a portfolio including apartment buildings in Savannah, has not officially reapplied with the plan for the Christian Academy site yet.

The plans presented Thursday were conceptual and subject to further feedback, according to Emmanuel Neuman of Spandrel.

Since many of the big concerns with the original plan were held by Old Woodlands neighbors on the south side of the property, the new plan has reduced the buildings that back up to that neighborhood to three stories and increased the buffer, which would stand between the apartment buildings and homeowners.

“We listened,” Mark Baker, president of the Hilton-Head based landscape architecture firm on the project said Thursday. “We’re lowering all the properties on the south side.”

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The standing-room only crowd at Hilton Head Town Council on April 2 for debate on the Hilton Head Christian Academy site apartments. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Will more trees do the trick?

The new type of buffer proposed for the apartment complex includes higher trees and a wooden fence to separate the sites, according to renderings.

That opaque buffer pleases Sandra Entrup, who lives on Indian Trail in Old Woodlands.

“I’m a huge fan of this,” she said pointing to renderings of the buffer and setback that were super-imposed on her backyard. “It’s a huge improvement.”

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Spandrel Development Partners, released.

The rent rates proposed for the apartments haven’t changed, though.

Neuman said they’ll still price the units so they’re affordable for earners who make between $42,149 and $84,298 annually — or between 60 percent and 120 percent of the area’s median income.

Following the rule that renters should aim to pay no more than 30 percent of their annual income in rent, that section of the workforce could afford to spend between $1,170 and $2,341 on rent each month.

Spandrel has previously said the rent for the units will be between $1,200 and $2,400 per month for a studio up to a three-bedroom apartment, respectively.

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Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Neuman said most of the apartments will be double-occupancy, meaning two wage-earning adults will likely live there.

A single worker on Hilton Head — as identified by a recently completed workforce housing study — makes between $20,850 and $51,359 each year.

In the new plan, the firm says it’s prepared to reserve five percent of the units — or 13 units — for workforce housing.

While the professions that would be eligible for this housing have not been defined yet, the developer has said it could include nurses, Town of Hilton Head Island employees or first-responders, for instance. The rent for these 13 units would not be lower.

When Hilton Head Christian moves, where will the students go?

One major concern about Hilton Head Christian’s move to Bluffton is where the students will go.

Doug Langhals, the head of the school, said Thursday the likelihood that students will flood to public schools on the island are unlikely.

“We have a lot of families who are passionate about this school and Christian education,” Langhals said.

He said around 60 percent of the 400 students at the school come from “Bluffton and beyond,” so the move over the bridge will make the commute more convenient.

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The conceptual plan for Hilton Head Christian Academy’s approved Bluffton campus. The football field, located toward the bottom of the image, has Pinecrest Community neighbors upset about possible noise, light and traffic safety concerns. — submitted plans to Town of Bluffton

What’s next?

Thursday’s plans were preliminary, and Neuman said Spandrel will take resident feedback into account before they reapply to the town’s planning commission for rezoning the Christian Academy site.

The next planning commission meeting, where attorney Walter Nester said Spandrel hopes to reapply for zoning, is at 3 p.m. May 15.

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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.

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