For months, the town of Hilton Head has been hosting workshops aimed at giving residents a say in the island’s future — at a taxpayer cost so far of $93,500.
Yet despite the town’s commitment to receive feedback from residents in developing an islandwide “vision” plan, not all residents feel their voices are being heard.
“It just seemed to reek of the good-ol’-boy network,” said Gail Lloyd, who attended a workshop in Hilton Head Plantation in August, when interviewed Monday. “It just seemed like the longer it went the more disgusted I was.”
Her frustration stemmed from what she considered to be a biased presentation that seemed to push an agenda — to change the island in ways she didn’t want it to.
Others shared her sentiment.
Cynthia Cornelssen, who also attended a planning workshop, said potential future scenarios were presented to participants, and there was no discussion about what residents wanted. She said she left half an hour early out of frustration.
“(The workshop leaders) only hear what they want to hear,” she said Monday. “It’s disturbing to know this visioning (process) is to push this island to something completely different.”
To date, the town has spent $93,500 on Future iQ, a Minnesota-based regional planning organization that, according to its website, has undertaken similar projects in the U.S. Hilton Head is slated to spend $165,000 on the project, according to the original contract and an amended version signed in 2016 and 2017.
John Troyer, the town’s finance director, said project money will come from the Town Council’s “initiatives” line item in the budget.
The workshops, according to the town’s “Our Future” website, will “engage citizens in a discussion of key issues and trends, and to discuss future scenarios and their implications and impacts.”
For residents such as Cornelssen, Charles Fraser’s vision of a “high-end resort environment” should be guiding the island. She said she wants Hilton Head to return to what it used to be, adding she isn’t a fan of what she contends is the island’s current direction.
“People laugh at us becoming a Myrtle Beach,” she said. “But we are becoming Myrtle Beach. The whole feel (of the island) has changed.”
Some residents have been critical of the future scenarios presented at the planning workshops, contending they are predetermined. Scenarios are proposed based on a quadrant design that includes the following categories: “revitalization and modernization,” “inclusive multi-dimensional community,” “protect traditional strengths,” and “destination community.”
But not all the workshop feedback has been negative.
“I didn’t feel like we were pigeon-holed into those scenarios,” said Jody Levitt, a workshop participant, when contacted Monday. “They were springboards.”
Another resident, Russ Whiteford, said input was encouraged at the meetings.
“There are people who are pretty set in their ways,” he said about the critics. “When progressive ideas came out (at the workshops), they were like ‘Well, we can’t do that.’”
David Ames, a member of Town Council and the vision project management team, defended the process when contacted Monday, saying he doesn’t think the methodology used by Future iQ is well understood.
The goal of the workshops and related surveys, Ames said, is to create a vision for the island based on the responses of residents.
“The four scenarios weren’t put forward to say, ‘This is where we’re going,’ but to tease out reactions of people,” he said.
Mayor David Bennett, who campaigned on developing an islandwide “vision,” said Monday he believes a master plan for the island’s future is needed to help Town Council make decisions going forward.
For example, Bennett said, Town Council would have had a better idea of whether to rezone Bradley Circle, which is an ongoing debate, if there were a plan for the island’s future.
Emily Sparks, the vision project leader, said Monday that most of the workshop feedback gathered in surveys has been positive.
Sometime this month, Sparks said the data gathered at the workshops will be available for the public to examine. Future iQ is expected to have a “road map” to the island’s future early next year, she said. In the meantime, more workshops are being planned.
Blue and green kiosks also will be located around town for residents to provide feedback. The first has been placed outside Town Hall. Two others will be placed around the island in high traffic areas and moved periodically.
Sparks said when residents come across a kiosk, they can post a photo and use the hashtag #HHIOurFuture. The photo may appear on the “Our Future” Facebook page.