Hilton Head’s Sea Pines gets results on $7.8M referendum. It came down to 122 votes

Sea Pines gate as Hurricane Matthew approaches

It was a ghost town in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Oct. 6, 2016. Hurricane Matthew arrived the next night.
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It was a ghost town in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Oct. 6, 2016. Hurricane Matthew arrived the next night.

A referendum in Sea Pines that would have raised property owners’ annual assessments by $450 to pay for critical infrastructure projects in the gated community on Hilton Head’s south end has failed, according to a Wednesday announcement by Sea Pines leadership.

Although 72 percent of ballots were cast for the proposal, the tally didn’t meet the 75 percent threshold needed to pass, as outlined in the community’s covenants, written in 1974.

The referendum was packaged as a way to address “Sea Pines Community’s aging infrastructure including roadways and stormwater ... deteriorating landscape and our traffic issues,” CSA president Bret Martin wrote in a statement about the results.

Of the 4,214 ballots returned to the Charleston-based referendum ballot administrator Elliot Davis, 3,039 were in favor of the referendum. It was 122 votes short of passing.

Elliot Davis reported nearly 80 percent participation, which Martin said was the “highest return rate and engagement from Sea Pines Property Owners to date.”

The increase in property owners’ assessments of $450 over three years would have established a new baseline assessment from the community, Amanda Jones, director of communications for CSA, told The Island Packet in June.

The referendum split voters in Sea Pines because CSA heavily lobbied for its passing while other citizen groups such as the Alliance called it an unfair burden on property owners.

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A webpage titled voteforseapines.com, a site created to support the $7.8 million referendum on the ballot for Sea Pines voters. Screenshot

Some voters felt they lacked information on where the permanent assessment increases will go, especially after fallout from a gate agreement document residents never got to review except for a leaked copy.

That document would change how the $8 gate fee at Sea Pines would be allocated and how it would be increased, but led to distrust among some voters prior to the referendum.

“It was an issue of trust over an issue of assessment,” Carla Golden said Thursday.

Competing mailers, brochures and phone calls from CSA and other groups regarding the referendum confused some property owners, especially those who live out of state.

“I think that the division was due to the communications about the referendum,” said Dana Advocaat, the secretary and treasurer for the Sea Pines Legal Defense Fund. “It was sold as a financial referendum, but it was so much more than that. The people who live here knew that, but not people in another state who got a 14-page brochure in the mail” from CSA.

Now that the vote is over, some residents are moving forward.

“We’re all in the same neighborhood, we’re still all on the same team. We don’t need to divide,” Golden said.

She partnered with Rex Gale, who voted opposite of her, to organize a post-referendum book club meeting in September where participants will discuss the book “The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict.”

The goal is to “discuss for one hour, based on the insights from the books, how to understand the opinions of others, even if those opinions disagree with our own, and the importance of respecting the individual who may hold those opinions,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

“While we will not discuss any particulars of the recent referendum, we will explore how to engage in debates about this and future referendums in a way that fosters trust, belonging, and peace,” the event description says.

The leadership in Sea Pines will have to find other ways to pay for the traffic, stormwater and landscaping projects. Martin said staff is reviewing alternatives now.

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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.