Hilton Head planning commission members prefer overhaul rather than piecemeal development solutions

Changing land-use regulations and gaining more cooperation from gated communities are essential if recent recommendations from a mayor's task force are to work, members of the Town of Hilton Head Island Planning Commission said Monday.

The Comprehensive Plan Committee -- a subset of the town Planning Commission -- met to discuss the priorities the Town Council should set for 2011.

Commission members applauded goals outlined in the final draft report by the Mayor's Task Force for the Island's Future released Aug. 30, but questioned suggestions to amend the town's planning code, the land management ordinance.

During the past two years, Hilton Head has changed its land management ordinance to make it easier for commercial properties to renovate or expand. The result, though, has been complex special zoning districts "overlaying" existing zoning areas, members said.

"There are more (bandages) on the LMO than the hospital has," said committee chairman Tom Crews, also a candidate for mayor. "Our LMO is wounded. We've created a host of compliance issues, and at the end of the day you say, 'How do you meet all these regulations to get where you want to go?' "

Town Council made redevelopment a top priority but is finding it difficult to reconcile that with a government founded to rein in growth.

"The goal should be to bring the fabric of public and private investment together, and what prevents that is an ordinance that was intended to slow and manage growth 25 years ago," Crews said. "It's a different time and a different day."

He suggested the town consider moving to a form-based planning code, similar to Beaufort County.

Unlike conventional zoning, which emphasizes land use, form-based code focuses on a building's appearance and relationship to its surroundings, according to the Form-Based Codes Institute.

Municipalities across the county have used form-based codes in response to urban sprawl, deterioration of historic neighborhoods and neglect of pedestrian safety in new development, according to the institute. It is gaining favor in the city of Beaufort and the town of Port Royal.

Crews said such a switch would better align its regulations with its development objectives.

Committee members suggested form-based code might help produce a downtown walking district of shops and cafes at Coligny Circle.

Doing so, however, will require buy-in from the island's gated communities, members said.

"There needs to be a focal point for this community," said committee member Terry Leary. "The problem is Coligny is important for tourists, but it's not important for residents."

The report from the Mayor's Task Force for the Island's Future will be presented to a joint meeting of Town Council and the town Planning Commission at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers at Town Hall.