A Hilton Head Island program focused on helping at-risk youth has become a concern for some Cordillo Courts property owners, who say it is a safety and insurance risk.
Neighborhood Outreach Connection officials have said the accusations are a gentrification effort by a business wanting to make a quick profit.
The nonprofit has been operating an after-school program at the Cordillo Courts complex since 2014. It also provides a preschool and other community programs out of the three residential units it owns.
“We are helping our neighbors,” Dr. Narenda P. Sharma, program chairman, said. “If we provide this support, these kids are going to graduate with high school diplomas and join the workforce.”
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James Ackerman, president of the complex’s property owners association, said Cordillo Courts is not the right place for the program. He said a property master deed and bylaws state the units can be used only for residential purposes.
“These units are not designed for this,” Ackerman said.
Sharma argues that a former board approved the units being used for the program. He said the board had the ability to override the bylaws for the complex.
“We were invited to come here (by Cordillo officials),” Sharma said. “That led us to invest here and purchase property.”
Currently the nonprofit serves about 60 children ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade at its Cordillo location, Sharma said. Another 12 children are served in a preschool program.
Ackerman said housing 82 children in units built for residential purposes raises concerns.
“You have children going up and down stairs,” Ackerman said. “What happens if there is a fire. It raises insurance questions. Where is the liability?”
Sharma said the program receives funding from the Beaufort County School District. It meets strict fire and safety code regulations set by the district to receive the money. He said this also includes insurance requirements.
He said the Cordillo Courts board is not concerned with safety but about making a profit off property they bought at a low price.
Ackerman does not live at Cordillo Courts but is a co-owner of MidAtlantic Rentals, which owns five units in the complex.
“Yes, we did buy property there, but we are actively seeking to raise property values for our own units and everyone else’s,” Ackerman said.
Sharma said the nonprofit is working toward the same goal.
“We also want property values to go up, but we want people to be treated fairly and be a part of the solution,” Sharma said. “Kicking out NOC serves the interest of individuals, not the larger interest of Hilton Head and Beaufort County.”
As Hilton Head sits in a workforce crisis, programs such as the Neighborhood Outreach Connection are providing solutions, Sharma said.
Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center Principal Kim Bratt said her students’ test scores show the positive results of Neighborhood Outreach Connection.
“They are very determined to make the program an extension of the school day,” Bratt said. “He looks at data to make sure they are making improvements. He is very connected with school staff and the community.”
Ackerman said he also sees the program as a benefit for the community.
“This is not a personal attack,” Ackerman said. “It is not about low income. It is about following the rules. It is a huge safety risk.”
Cordillo owners are looking to the Town of Hilton Head Island for help, he said.
“We are hoping to work with the town to see how we can address this,” he said. “That seems like a better way than bogging down the legal system.”
Brian Hulbert, town attorney, said the town does not get involved in disputes regarding private covenants and property owners.