Some Bluffton residents worry football games will be too noisy at new high school
Cheering sports fans will soon be 100 yards away from Mimi Molina’s bedroom window, something Molina had hoped to prevent Tuesday night when she and about a dozen neighbors from the Pinecrest community asked Bluffton Town Council to reject Hilton Head Christian Academy’s request to move its future football field closer to the neighborhood.
The school, which plans to relocate to Bluffton in 2020, had already received initial town approval in 2002 for future development of a 27.78-acre campus. However, the school resubmitted its plans for the football field in February, saying the location needed to be moved so that sun wouldn’t get in the players’ eyes, something Rod Strickland, the academy’s chair of the board, said in a September town meeting.
On Tuesday, council unanimously approved the school’s request.
“I’ll have to think of my home as part of a sports complex instead of a private home,” Molina said Wednesday. “If it affects my property value, who do I blame for that? I don’t know. But I’ll be close enough to this field to smell the popcorn.”
The new plans move the field from just below Bluffton Parkway to a location next to Masters Way and Pinecrest Way, putting it closer to 13 homes. Molina owns two of those homes, including the one closest to the field.
In agreeing to the change, council required HHCA to work directly with the Pinecrest Property Owners Association to address concerns about the potential noise, traffic and light.
The school agreed Tuesday to build a dirt berm — along with traffic signals.
Doug Langhals, Hilton Head Christian Academy’s head of school, said the school “wants to be a good neighbor.”
“We’ve built a relationship now,” he said. “And so, as we move forward — and I’m just thinking of the next month, something five years down the road — that we have that dialogue so we can be good neighbors.”
The K-12 private school, which has about 373 students, first announced its plan to build in Bluffton in Jan. 2017. The project will cost somewhere between $15 million and $20 million, according to the school’s website.
Molina said she supports the move, but wishes that residents had been consulted on the project.
“This was pushed through without (the) input of someone like me,” she said. “We on Pinecrest Way were neglected.”
Molina said she was supposed to have a meeting with the POA and HHCA, but it was canceled due to the then-mandatory evacuation order for Hurricane Florence. That meeting, she said, was never rescheduled.
“All (POA) homeowners pay the same dues and deserve the same protection,” she said Wednesday. “I’m the neighbor (affected). The Pinecrest POA isn’t the neighbor. They should have talked to me.”
Linda Thompson, president of Pinecrest’s POA, says the POA worked with HHCA on compromises that include the school scheduling its football games before 7 p.m. whenever possible.
She also said property owners don’t have a right to tell HHCA “how to run the school.”
“They have a vision for what their school’s going to be and how they want it to look and want it to be,” she said. “I have to respect the sovereignty of that matter for them.”
On Tuesday night, Mayor Lisa Sulka, who insisted that approval be contingent on the dirt berm agreement, stressed the importance of the school complying with the traffic and disturbance measures, saying the project is just the latest in Bluffton’s “lifelong headaches of infrastructure going (in) after development.”
“Nobody puts infrastructure in first, and the town, we get beat up over it. And in the big scheme of things, it’s going to be part of the budget,” she said.
Other conditions for the school include ensuring that light does not travel too far beyond the field and that any noise produced does not violate ordinances already in place.
When asked if she thought HHCA was being a good neighbor , Molina spoke ambivalently.
“Yes and no,” she said. “Yes, in that they showed concern. I felt I was slighted in that (Langhals) chose not to contact me. It could have quelled a lot of fears. So I’m disappointed.”
Sulka said that even with the controversy, the town should be excited that HHCA is moving to Bluffton.
“If everyone has a little bit of misery, then it was a good vote,” she said.