If you build it, they will come ... to a county council meeting and denounce it.
Conceptual plans for a 53-acre plot of land worry neighbors in the Hampton Lake and Lawton Station communities, who say the possibility of a baseball park brings noise, traffic and concerns about their home values. The land, donated by developer Sandlapper Hill LLC to Beaufort County, was unanimously approved in March by the Beaufort County Council to become an “active” park — possibly a baseball complex.
Since then, neighbors have sprung into action. They’ve spoken out at meetings, met with county officials and written Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka. The Facebook group Save Bluffton Parkway — created on Aug. 30 for neighbors to share their concerns about upcoming development projects along Bluffton Parkway — has over 230 followers. After meeting with County Councilman Mike Covert, some residents say they are hopeful the undeveloped land bordered by Bluffton Parkway on the north, Lawton Station on the west and Hampton Lake on the east and south will instead be used as a “passive” park.
However, any plans for the land are merely conceptual, and county officials say any future development would require money that isn’t budgeted now.
Active vs. Passive
On March 25, County Council approved a resolution to accept a donation of 53.43 acres from the North American Land Trust, a Pennsylvania-based conservation group, for use as a “future active park.” At the March council meeting, Community Development Department Director Eric Greenway, Parks and Recreation Director Shannon Loper and Councilmen Mike Covert and Mark Lawson spoke positively about the property’s potential use as a baseball and softball complex. At the meeting, Covert said the land could allow for a “21st-century complex” with turf fields and concession stands for youth sports.
Loper said in March that this property’s use as a baseball and softball complex would allow the Buckwalter Community Park to become a soccer complex.
Covert said the county can’t develop fields at the Buckwalter complex because of surrounding wetlands. With the enormous growth Bluffton has experienced since 2010 — a 76.9 percent increase in population estimate — there aren’t many places where kids can play organized sports, he said.
The land, which sits between the Hampton Lake and Lawton Station communities, has a conservation easement attached from the North American Land Trust that allows it to be used only for outdoor recreation or open space. The easement would allow the land to be developed as either an active or passive park. Active parks have fields or facilities; passive parks don’t.
“Save Bluffton Parkway”
After Hilton Head Monthly wrote about the land’s potential use for youth sports in May, several residents in the area say they grew concerned about what a baseball complex would mean for their home values.
Hampton Lake residents Dave and Renae Winn said they moved to Bluffton in December to escape the hectic pace, traffic and high cost of living in northern Virginia. They thought Hampton Lake would provide a safe and peaceful place for retirement. However, after reading about the proposed sports complex online, they grew worried about what the park would mean for their tranquil community.
In a letter to Mayor Sulka, the Winns wrote, “Our preference of course, is that the space be used for a passive park that could be enjoyed by the entire town of Bluffton while maintaining the beautiful preserve area. We as well as many others are concerned about the rapid, seemingly out of control building in this beautiful, peaceful town.”
After public outcry over the plans, Hampton Lake resident Vallee Bubak created the Facebook group Save Bluffton Parkway to share information about the effect of new developments on taxes, safety and dwindling vacant land. As of Monday, the page had 234 followers.
Six residents spoke to Covert last week about their concerns. In that private meeting, Covert said he would look into the process required to amend the resolution so the land could become a passive park rather than an active one.
Regardless of the original resolution’s intent, Covert said any plans are off the county’s “radar” and that the land probably won’t be developed for several years.