Could a massive new development — essentially a small city — sprout from the greens and fairways of a failing golf course in the shadow of the Bluffton Parkway flyover?
If the owners of Hilton Head National Golf Course have their way, that’s precisely what will happen over the next decade or so.
But if critics of the proposed 300-acre development have their way, the project would fade like a tee shot shanked into the woods.
A proposal to redevelop the course at the corner of Bluffton Parkway and Malphrus Road was introduced Thursday evening during a marathon session of the Beaufort County Planning Commission, which is tasked with vetting a zoning change request by the course’s ownership group.
The development, which is in a very preliminary conceptual phase, could include the construction of up to 700,000 square feet of retail space, 400 apartments, 500 single-family homes, an assisted-living facility, a 125,0000-square-foot convention center and a 1,500-seat performing arts center by 2030.
The massive project would also require significant infrastructure improvements such as a new public school, a fire and police substation, and major expansions to the transportation network, county documents show.
If ultimately approved, the development would be “a really, really impactful project that will have an effect for decades into the future,” county planning director Tony Criscitello said.
Approval, however, is far from guaranteed. In fact, a somewhat similar redevelopment proposal was shot down in 2013.
Local residents packed a meeting room at the Bluffton branch of the Beaufort County Library for Thursday night’s Planning Commission discussion on the project.
About a dozen people spoke during a public comment session, many expressing concerns about growth-related problems such as increased traffic around Bluffton Parkway, noise problems and potential negative impacts on water quality in the nearby May River.
“People move here because it still has a small-town feel,” Kathy Sanderson said. “We don’t need to turn into a Charleston or a Savannah.”
John Roberts agreed.
“Our lifestyle has been affected negatively” by explosive growth in the Bluffton area, he said.
Greg Dale, a consultant working for the Hilton Head National’s owner Scratch Golf LLC and its parent firm The United Company, said the residents have “legitimate concerns,” but vowed to continue working with the community and Beaufort County officials to minimize negative impacts.
Martin Kent, president of The United Company, said the economic benefits of the project — estimated to be billions of dollars —“far outweigh any concerns that are raised.”
Hilton Head National was built in 1993, but since then the “golf industry has fundamentally changed,” he said.
Operating Hilton Head National is “no longer sustainable from an economic perspective” and the proposed development “is a much better use for this property,” Kent said.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to table a vote on whether to recommend the zoning change to allow county staff to continue studying potential impacts of the development.
The board meets again Oct. 3.