Ward 5 council candidates talk airport runway, land use at Wednesday forum

Sea Pines and Seabrook residents will have their choice of a two-term incumbent facing his first challenger in five years or a lawyer with federal and town government experience who says it's time for new leadership on Hilton Head Island Town Council.

George Williams Jr., is running for re-election to his Ward 5 seat against Sea Pines resident Charles Raley.

The League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island moderated a forum between the candidates Wednesday night at Sea Pines Community Center. More than 60 people turned out.

Williams was first elected to Town Council in a 2001 special election to fill a seat vacated by Earl Mallick, who resigned in November 2000.

He was uncontested in 2005, when he was elected to a five-year term to match the town's voting schedule with national and state elections.

Town council members currently serve four-year terms as does the mayor.

Raley is a lawyer who represents businesses before the Federal Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. He was on the town's Board of Zoning and Appeals from 2003-09.

He said he decided to run for council after listening to discussions about the future of the island's airport.

Raley favors extending the airport's runway to accommodate corporate jets and more commercial service.

"It is an engine that drives the economy," he said.

He supports redeveloping the mall at Shelter Cove and other aging buildings, such as those in Coligny Plaza, to become "open, attractive, pedestrian friendly centers."

He also favors a "thorough review and revision" of the town's Land Management Ordinance to ease requirements for redevelopment of aging buildings.

"It is a deterrent to investment and development on this island," Raley said, calling LMO amendments made in the last 18 months "useless."

Williams touted what he called a nine-year career of fiscal conservatism, leadership, vision and independence from "special interests."

He supports maintaining commercial airline service to the island and favors runway expansion that is "economically sound" and reflects the needs of the entire island.

He joined Raley in supporting the creation of an economic development entity to attract business, adding the town is already moving that direction.

The Planning & Development Standards Committee will review successful economic development tools used in Greenville and Columbia at a meeting Monday.

Williams defended changes Town Council made to the LMO, saying they injected flexibility into the planning code and now encourage people to replace out-dated structures that don't comply with current standards.

Williams also said the town needs to better prioritize its spending in light of continued cost increases and declining revenues.

"This year, I voted against the budget because we used reserve funds to balance it" and approved a 1 percent raise for staff amid an economic decline, Williams said. "We need to continue to look at every area to find cost reductions."

Both candidates said they support use of tax money collected on overnight lodging or a special tax district to pay for dredging needs at Harbour Town.

"Those waterways are vital to the town," Williams said.