Politics & Government

Kids begged Hilton Head leaders not to take their only play area. Here’s what they decided

Children in matching blue shirts filled a row at Tuesday’s Hilton Head Town Council meeting. They were there with the goal of saving the only public tennis courts on the island’s south end, where many of them play after school.

In the end, they got what they wanted.

After more than a dozen people spoke for and against selling the public tennis courts at Cordillo Courts, a condominium complex, the Town Council voted unanimously to not sell the property.

“Why do you want to take away the tennis courts?” one child asked council members, reading from a paper before him. “(Neighborhood Outreach Connection) is teaching us how to play tennis. The tennis courts mean so much to us. Please don’t take away the tennis courts.”

Neighborhood Outreach Connection is a nonprofit with a stated mission of fighting poverty and improving the quality of life of Beaufort County residents. The program operates out of three condos at Cordillo Courts, Narendra Sharma, the program’s founder, said previously.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Sharma said about 150 children in the area use the tennis courts to play. With Tuesday’s decision, they won’t have to worry about the courts — which they sometimes use to play soccer — being restricted.

James Ackerman, board president of Cordillo Courts, which is split in half by the public park, asked the town in September to either clean up the cracked, paint-stained courts or sell the 1.4-acre property to the condominium complex. In October, town staff recommended that the courts be redeveloped for adult and youth tennis, and pickleball; and also suggested a new community building with meeting space on the property.

Ackerman said Wednesday he wants to work with the town to come up with a better way to use the property. He said he was not disappointed with the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting, noting that selling the courts was not about “money or politics and control,” but about restoring the run-down property.

Ackerman also said several weeks after initially speaking before Town Council in September, he was approached by a town official who asked him to “give us a price and let us know what you’re going to do with it.”

Charles Cousins, town director of community development, informed Ackerman after the September presentation that if the condominium complex wanted to buy the town-owned property, Ackerman had to send a written proposal to the town, Cousins said Thursday. Ackerman sent the proposal on Oct. 10, Cousins said.

In that letter, Ackerman proposed two offers for the courts: $40,000 and $70,000, with the promise it would be turned into green space within six months to a year, and the eventual goal of gating the community. The variation in price was based on whether the complex or the town would be responsible for turning it into green space.

The town purchased the tennis courts from Dennis Van Der Meer, the founder of Van Der Meer Tennis, in 2002 for $400,000, Beaufort County property records show.

“If Cordillo is allowed to purchase the property, I see it more as a path of least resistance,” Ackerman said at Tuesday’s meeting. “One of the thing’s we’d do is work to remove the covenants. We’d work to guarantee to turn it into green space, provide a safer environment for residents, work to restore property values to what they were, and provide a future playground for families of Cordillo and The Hedges.”

Currently, the property is governed by covenants restricting the use of the land to tennis. Ackerman said it would take two-thirds of property owners in the Cordillo and Hedges condominium complexes to agree to change the covenants.

Ackerman said the Cordillo Courts property is often littered and attracts illegal parking, illegal vendors and drug deals. During Tuesday’s meeting, he showed photos to Town Council of the alleged activities.