Hilton Head streamlines commercial permit process to try to spur investment

Getting a permit from the Town of Hilton Head Island for new commercial development can be a daunting process -- one in which clients often discover hurdles that cause delays, a local land-planner says.

Todd Theodore of landscape architectural firm Wood + Partners and others hope changes the town is making to streamline the permitting process will make redevelopment easier, faster and more predictable.

"Hilton Head is an aging community, and there are lots of opportunities to reinvest in a lot of areas," Theodore said. "Anything the town can do to make that investment easier is good for the community."

Town staff has worked for six months to simplify commercial permitting after gathering input from more than 60 people, including architects, land planners, attorneys and developers. Planning commissioner Terry Ennis and Palmetto Hall resident Robert Gentzler, who have worked together as consultants to help businesses simplify their operations, were also involved.

Teri Lewis, who oversees enforcement of the town's land-management ordinance, said the changes complement work by a separate committee that is rewriting zoning and land-use regulations, with the hope of spurring redevelopment. The town's regulations, formed to slow rapid growth in the 1990s, have become obstacles to investment, committee members have said.

Town officials hope changes in both permitting and regulations will entice wary developers and businesses to take another look at Hilton Head and dust off plans that were put aside during the recession.

Some of the changes are in place; others take effect Oct. 1 for anyone applying for a permit to build a new commercial development or addition.

Major changes to the procedure include:

  • Making a town project manager the single point of contact and advocate for applicants. The manager will set priorities and resolve problems so that permitting goes smoothly and quickly, Lewis said.
  • "The idea of the advocate, ... knowing that you have someone to help you through, eases the risk of investment," Theodore said.

  • Improving predictability and flexibility. The applicant will receive consistent information from staff as early as possible with minimal subjectivity on code interpretation.
  • "Those were the two big things people wanted to see before they invested time and money into a project," Lewis said. "They wanted some sort of assurances that the project will be approved in a timely manner, because time is money."

  • Eliminating unnecessary steps and delays, resulting in cost savings for the applicant.
  • The town wants to get the word out that it will be "more business- and customer-friendly," Lewis said.

    "We want people to be happy on both sides of the table."

    Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

    Related content

    Native island communities hurt by strict regulations, some town officials say: Aug. 11, 2011

    Land ordinance rewrite panel pushes public gathering spaces, consistent development standards: April 14, 2011