What will Hilton Head be like in twenty years?
A newly adopted vision for the island is taking the first steps toward change, but some residents still aren't on board with the plan.
Hilton Head Town Council unanimously adopted a vision and strategic action plan for the island at its Tuesday meeting without much discussion, with Mayor David Bennett absent.
The vision was created to help guide decision-making and lead the island toward a "preferred future" that was developed after two dozen workshops, more than 2,500 responses to a community-wide survey and two think tank sessions over the last year.
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Future IQ, a Minnesota-based company, was brought on to assist with the project, and, according to its contract with the town, was paid $165,000.
How will the island change?
It's difficult to pinpoint specific ways Hilton Head may change, because the town has not yet decided how to "take the vision we've adopted and implement it," said Emily Sparks, project lead.
The more than 60-page action plan approved by council does include a "community vision statement" with some concrete examples.
The vision statement in the report includes a future that has:
▪ younger and more ethnically diverse citizens and a multi-lingual community;
▪ more integrated and accessible communities;
▪ a broader range of incomes on the island, with "a lower median income making the island more accessible;"
▪ Increased employment, and more teaching opportunities and schools;
▪ year-round tourism that "embraces both cultural and eco-tourism;"
▪ a historical district that encourages a "'downtown/town center' environment and enhanced walkability;"
▪ more mass transit and environmentally friendly transportation, such as water taxis;
▪ "enhanced environmental quality," with a main island sewer system, renewable energy infrastructure and more green space.
Sparks said these statements "would oversimplify where we want to go," because the vision is meant to be a tool to guide future decision-making.
Specifics of the plan
Out of four scenarios for the future, residents ultimately chose one called "reinventing sustainability ... again." That future will be guided by a few principles, such as:
▪ adopting an "ideal of excellence;"
▪ creating a "renewable energy framework;"
▪ becoming relevant to young professionals and having a "healthy aging economy;"
▪ creating a "diversity of recreational, arts and 'quality of life' offerings;"
▪ building trust among the community;
▪ becoming a "regional player" and strengthening the "Bluffton connection;"
▪ having "right-sized neighborhoods" and "regional transportation systems"
The island's visioning initiative began in 2016 when the town made developing a long-range vision a town priority, according to the vision and strategic action plan report. The visioning process remains a top priority for 2018.
In February 2017, the town created a committee to develop the vision. That committee was formally dissolved at Tuesday's meeting.
Town Council also unanimously approved directing the Public Planning Committee and town staff to develop a process to guide phase two of the vision process.
"The vision has been a year's effort, and it's really only 40 percent complete," said council member David Ames at Tuesday's meeting. "The 60 percent is the next phase that actually depicts what the vision is in terms of bricks and mortar and ideas."
Sparks said it's unclear what phase two is at this time.
Why it's controversial
Some residents have been critical of the visioning process.
One of those residents is Cynthia Cornelssen, who said Wednesday she does not want to see the island change, and felt the "vision" was predetermined.
"(Charles) Fraser had a vision and that's why people move here," she said. "Why do they want to fix something that isn't broken? It's worked this way for all these years. ... It's not a joke when people say we're turning into Myrtle Beach. It's coming."
Others have praised the process as a positive step forward for the community.
"How cool is it that Hilton Head, a world-class destination resort and residential community, is thinking pro-actively about our future?" a resident said in a letter to the editor in December. "The world around us is rapidly changing, and for Hilton Head to remain world-class, we must be proactive in planning for our future."
When the vision and strategic action plan was first presented by the consultant, David Beurle, in February, he said the town faced several obstacles to achieving the preferred future determined by the visioning process. One obstacle, he said, is that residents can be "hypercritical" and can't engage in civic or civil dialogue.
There are also "deep levels of distrust" in the community, he said.
One facet of that distrust is between those who live in gated communities and feel threatened by change, Beurle said, and those who do not and want change.
There is also an “existential crisis” happening in the Gullah Geechee community, he said.
Beurle recommended at the time that residents who did not want change and those who did attempt to reach a compromise.