Land ordinance rewrite panel pushes public gathering places, consistent development standards

Lack of public gathering spots and inconsistent development standards dominated the attention Thursday of a newly formed committee hoping to spur redevelopment on Hilton Head Island.

Town officials say the regulations formed to slow the town's rapid growth in the 1990s are now obstacles to reinvestment. Meanwhile, property values have been falling, they say.

"We are in a different time," said Tom Crews, chairman of the land management ordinance rewrite committee. "The development pattern of rapid growth that brought us here today is gone."

Members of the committee, the town's Planning Commission and Town Council heard a presentation Thursday by town staff on the history of development and planning on the island during the past 60 years. The meeting kicks off the mission of the rewrite committee, created by Town Council to recommend ways to simplify town regulations and make it easier for businesses and residents to redevelop their properties.

About 70 percent of land on the island is behind gated communities, with land uses and development standards for each governed by separate plans. The same goes for most of the area outside the gates, town officials say.

"We have a collection of master plans for various areas of the island enacted at different times with different rules with different definitions and different intent," Crews said. "There's no homogeneous overview. ... There is still a lot of work to be done, in my mind, to take a fresh look at what that all means as a whole."

Crews and other committee members said more public gathering places could help create a new development standard and sense of community.

"People in the gated communities are isolated. We need to talk about public spaces and how to bring it all together," planning commission member Therese Leary said.

The committee pointed to a plan to redevelop the Coligny Beach area to build a walking district of shops and cafes. Town-owned land south of Pope Avenue would be swapped for commercially owned property north of the road to create a quarter-mile-long park surrounded by new commercial development, according to the proposal. Town Council gave the plan a warm reception at its retreat in December.

"Part of what makes a community whole is a sense of civic and public places," Crews said. "The collection of many master plans around the island needs to be knitted together to broaden the vision of this town and create a fabric of community."

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