Forest Beach area residents donning anti-“Heron Hotel” stickers showed up at Tuesday’s Hilton Head Town Council meeting to protest the controversial construction of two identical homes connected by a common deck.
“I feel that this is so glaring that it actually requires an investigation,” resident Mira Scott told the council. “I’m a little flabbergasted that it’s gone this far.”
Scott was one of eight residents who addressed the council in the standing-room-only meeting. Council members did not take any official action.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette first reported about the controversy last week. Heron Street residents have expressed concerns that the connected homes will become a “mini-hotel,” turning their quiet neighborhood into a resort.
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Shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, Jake Gartner of Hammerhead Custom Builders, who constructed the two homes and deck, told the newspapers he had been issued a town fine of $1,087 earlier Tuesday for obtaining a building permit after constructing the deck.
“I really didn’t think it would warrant a permit,” he said. “For a little deck like that, it wasn’t on my mind.”
The fine was in addition to paying double the cost of the permit, said Gartner, who serves as chairman of the town’s Design Review Board. That board deals with aesthetics of projects along major roadways, which doesn’t include Heron Street, to protect and maintain the island’s character, according to Chris Darnell, the town’s urban designer.
Scott raised several questions Tuesday to Town Council members regarding the town’s procedure during the inspection and approval of the properties. She also inquired about whether there was a penalty for obtaining a building permit for the deck after it had been constructed, and what reason the builder gave for not initially obtaining the permit.
Gartner told the newspapers the original plan was to put boards straight across connecting pools on the Heron Street properties, which he said would not require a permit. But by lifting those boards 15 inches off the ground and creating a deck, a permit was required, he said. He added that in hindsight he should have gotten the permit, which was issued May 31, before building the deck.
Shane Gould, the owner of the two Heron Street properties, told council members Tuesday he has lived on the island his entire life, and that he was not trying to change anything about the character of the North Forest Beach area by adding the connected homes. He said no one brought any issues to his attention while the houses and deck were being constructed, and critics waited until they were completed to raise concerns.
“These projects took two years to complete,” he said. “Not one time did I hear anyone say they did not think it was beautiful and tastefully done.”
Drew Brown, a representative of The Vacation Company of Hilton Head, told the council that no one under the age of 25 can rent the properties, and that the company also provides 24/7 service. Currently, there are six “multi-generational” reservations for the properties, he said.
“The goal of the property is to be a family retreat,” Brown said. “And that’s what we’re seeing right now.”
The Forest Beach Owners Association said the original plans for the properties submitted to its Architectural Review Board (ARB) did not include the common deck, which the association contends violates the buffer requirements set forth in its covenants. In a May 5 letter to Gould, John Snodgrass, executive director of the association, said the decking must be removed, or a variance could be requested.
Jack Daly, association president, said Monday no variance has been requested.
Teri Lewis, the town’s land management ordinance official, said the properties received a waiver on the buffer requirements from the town because town staff determined that the two properties functioned together. She said Monday this is the first time the waiver has been granted in a single-family residential district.
Normally, the waiver is used for separate commercial properties with common parking spaces or concrete, Lewis said.
Brian Hulbert, Hilton Head’s town attorney, said on Friday the town is not required by law to wait to approve something if a homeowner association ARB does not approve it. He also said there is no requirement to notify an ARB when the town approves something that is in conflict with the covenants of an association.
“The town does not have the responsibility or the authority to enforce the covenants,” Hulbert said.
But Pamela Martin Ovens, former president of the Forest Beach Owners Association, said Tuesday when she was president, whenever someone asked for a building permit in the Forest Beach area, the town would remind them of the covenants in place. She worries the Heron Street properties likely will be rented by college students having loud parties.