Four derelict tennis courts will remain in the hands of the Town of Hilton Head Island, at least for the time being, leading property owners on both sides of the issue to question their poor maintenance.
The town council voted 5-1, with Tom Lennox opposing, to deny the sale of the public courts to the low-income neighborhoods that surround them, Cordillo Courts and The Hedges. Several council members said they’d changed their minds about the sale, echoing Mayor David Bennett’s concerns that giving up the courts for just $15,000 cash would be a bad deal for taxpayers and residents alike.
“I just had some sincere concerns over the fact that we would be turning over this land to some property management organizations or regimes who haven’t really come forward in sort of a real partnership way to say they want to come together and do the right thing for the community,” said town council member Kim Likins, who previously supported the sale.
The deal would have involved converting the courts into open space, at a cost of about $50,000 to the town, and included a stipulation that the regimes would pay the town $250,000 if they sold or redeveloped the land down the road.
But homeowners said Tuesday night they had supported the sale, and not because they wanted to develop the land or sell it out from under their primarily low-income tenants, as other speakers Tuesday night suggested.
Caryn Patel, president of the Cordillo Courts Home-Owners Association, said she wanted the regimes to own the land so they can control access to their community, prevent crime and give neighborhood children a safe place to play other than the trash-strewn, cracked courts that she says attract drug deals and prostitution at night.
“The town’s been a really poor steward of the property,” Patel said. “It’s deplorable. I’m horrified the children even have to go out there, and I’m horrified a place such as Hilton Head would let a piece of property like that go.”
“And I know the only reason that was possible is because it was, in your eyes, low-income housing.”
Members of the Neighborhood Outreach Connection, a nonprofit organization that holds after-school programming in Cordillo Courts, also spoke out against the maintenance of the courts. However, they also decried the sale, arguing the town was best equipped to turn the land into a public park for the 180 children and families that live there and ensure it remains a resource for them in the future.
Eight children accompanied the group to the meeting, one of whom delivered a statement asking the town to keep the courts.
“Sometimes we play kickball, soccer, tennis and tag,” the fifth-grader, identified as Lucy, said. “If you take down the tennis court, we will have nowhere to play, and it will be boring for us.”
Eric Esquivel, publisher of La Isla magazine, agreed, telling council members he thought the sale of the courts would be a slippery slope to the conversion of Cordillo Courts into luxury timeshares and condominiums.
“We have a firestorm of an issue of low-income housing on Hilton Head,” Esquivel said. “It’s not being replaced. It’s being eliminated enmasse.”
The town must now decide how to go about maintaining the park, which was not previously receiving capital funding due to the proposed sale.
Two weeks ago, the town took over full responsibility for cleaning the courts, rather than paying the Island Recreation Center to do the work. And before the meeting, town manager Steve Riley said he has asked staff to move forward with plans to repair the entry drive and parking areas of the courts, which had deteriorated over the years.
After the vote, Bennett said he wants to see the town properly maintain the park immediately, including repairing broken fencing and other capital expenses.
That’s exactly what Patel asked for outside council chambers Tuesday night.
“We would like to demand the town step up and do their due diligence and maintain those tennis courts,” she said. “Fix them.”
You might also be interested in this video:
▪ Mayor: Hilton Head tennis courts not being maintained, March 22, 2016
▪ Sale of Hilton Head tennis courts hits new snag, February 22, 2016
▪ Hilton Head Island plans to sell Cordillo tennis courts, October 7, 2014