Negotiations between Beaufort County leaders and the owners of the Hilton Head National Golf Club came to a screeching halt Thursday afternoon.
County Council members shocked — and mostly thrilled — a crowd of about 100 gathered at the Hilton Head Branch Library when they opted to disband a board tasked with negotiating a development agreement with course owners Scratch Golf LLC and its Virginia-based parent firm the United Company.
That board, a subcommittee of the council’s Natural Resources Committee, was formed in January and was led by Councilman Tabor Vaux.
Vaux, who has been vocal in his opinion that redevelopment proposals for the 300-acre course in greater Bluffton must be scaled back drastically, was greeted with cheers and applause when he announced negotiations had reached an impasse.
Course owners were seeking a zoning change that could have allowed development on the entire parcel, with preliminary plans calling for the possibility of building 300 apartments, 300 homes, 400,000 square feet of retail space, 125,000 square feet of office space, a 500-room hotel, a 400-bed assisted-living facility, a 1,500-seat performing arts center, a convention center and a water park.
County leaders offered a counter-proposal in late March that would have limited development to no more than 130 acres. The remainder of the property would have been required to retain its current rural zoning.
That proposal was rebuffed, and negotiations continued — until Thursday.
I don’t think this is the end of it by any means.
Beaufort County Councilman Tabor Vaux
“Scratch Golf recently submitted a revised proposal, however this revised proposal still requests ... the entire parcel be rezoned,” Vaux said Thursday.
That proposal is “unreasonable in size, scope and magnitude,” he said. “... It would threaten the public health, safety and welfare of the community.”
“We came to an impasse before I thought we would, but if we can’t agree on the size and the scope of this project, then there is no point in discussing any of the other details,” Vaux said.
Local resident Kevin Hennelly said after Thursday’s meeting he was he was pleasantly surprised by the decision to halt negotiations.
The plans put forward by the course owners “just don’t fit in with the community at all,” he said.
Laura Sterling said she was pleased that the council listened to the concerns of the community, which centered around overcrowding, traffic, infrastructure cost, and pollution of local waterways.
She said that the process has exposed problems not only with the Hilton Head National proposal, but also with the county’s Community Development Code, a document used to provide zoning guidelines.
“In some places the code is seriously overreaching and in some places it’s seriously lacking” in restrictions on development, she said.
Collins Doughtie, a local who writes a weekly column for The Island Packet, started an online petition opposing the project that has been signed by more than 2,700 people.
“This is a great first step,” he said of Thursday’s decision to table negotiations, “but this is not over.”
Just because the subcommittee has been disbanded doesn’t mean the Hilton Head National redevelopment project is dead.
Scratch Golf president Bill Palmer wrote in a statement Thursday afternoon that the company asks “for continued good faith efforts by all parties to reach a result that is mutually beneficial for all sides.”
George Bullwinkle, an attorney representing the course owners, said the company’s proposal “obviously (wasn’t scaled back) to the satisfaction of the subcommittee.”
“We are going to back and look at options and see how we can work further on it,” he said told county leaders. “We look forward to being back in front of you sooner rather than later.”
When asked what plans for the property might include, Bullwinkle declined to comment.
Vaux said, “I suspect (the course owners) are going to go back and regroup, do some planning and then come back to us.”
“I don’t think this is the end of it by any means,” he said.