Island planning commissioners OK outdoor recreation additions at Broad Creek

Despite efforts by the Town of Hilton Head Island to make it easier to redevelop properties, some say they are still getting tangled in the process.

Town planning commissioners debated Wednesday whether proper procedure was followed and adequate public notice given for an ordinance amendment that would allow outdoor recreation along Broad and Skull creeks and Port Royal Sound.

The request came from Broad Creek Marina owner Roger Freedman, who plans to install a rope course, climbing wall and zip-line tour at the marina and an adjacent residential parcel.

The commission ultimately voted 7-1, with Loretta Warden dissenting, to allow outdoor recreation, such as nature trails and canopy towers, along Broad Creek and other waterfront areas, with certain conditions. Water parks and outdoor entertainment would not be allowed.

Currently, outdoor recreation activities are limited to the central Forest Beach area and resorts that have been granted exceptions.

The amendment applies only to parcels zoned for mixed-use waterfront development.

Some commissioners were upset the town-staff proposal endorsed Wednesday was different from one approved by a committee in April. The committee recommended such attractions receive a special exception from the town Board of Zoning Appeals, as opposed to being permitted with conditions.

Committee members have said zip lines would not be appropriate in all cases, and that's why they wanted to require zoning board approval. Town staff argued that requiring a special exception could delay projects.

The recommendation approved Wednesday would require all projects be approved by the town's Design Review Board and its Community Development Department, but not the zoning board.

Only projects that "preserve and enhance the natural features" of the property would be allowed. Operations would also be limited to daylight hours and light fixtures could be no higher than 20 feet. Freedman wants to have the zip line built in time for the International Ecotourism Society's annual conference Sept. 19-21 on the island.

"I'm appreciative of the efforts by staff and town committees to have the project come to fruition in a timely manner, but I do hope the process becomes easier for businessmen in the future. The process is a bit cumbersome," Freedman said.

He said he's pleased with Wednesday's decision, but the special conditions -- particularly limiting operations to daylight -- would create stricter standards than exist for other uses allowed on the property, including timeshares and restaurants.

"That places a handcuff on our business," Freedman said.

The issue moves to Town Council for final consideration.