With new council seated, time to get to work

One of the most spirited Hilton Head Island Town Council election cycles in 20 years has drawn to a close, and now it's time to get to work.

The primary reason every seat up for election was contested -- including seven candidates for mayor and five candidates to fill Mayor Drew Laughlin's Ward 3 seat -- is the air of uncertainty that hangs over the island and the Lowcountry when we consider our economic future. There is an almost universal recognition that the status quo won't do. We must up our game in the competitive marketplace.

At its goal-setting retreat in December -- before Lee Edwards won his Ward 3 seat Tuesday -- the council listed keeping the Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head as its top priority. The tournament's impact is very significant, both in terms of dollars spent and exposure, and the area economy would suffer -- at least in the short term -- should it depart. Where town officials can help, they should. But they also must recognize the limited role they play in determining the Heritage's future.

Where they can have a big impact is in creating a regulatory atmosphere that will foster redevelopment and breathe new life into aging areas of the island's commercial districts. Nearly all of the 18 candidates who ran for mayor or one of four council seats to be filled pointed to the need to review and revise the town's Land Management Ordinance, the 24-year-old guiding document for development and zoning.

The council's work should start there. It should include revisiting the town's comprehensive plan and making sure the overall vision for the island is right. State law requires that it be updated at least once every five years; nothing prevents it from happening more often. It also should include recognizing what changes already have been made to encourage redevelopment. And it should include recognizing the outside forces that affect redevelopment, including state tax laws, financial markets and consumer spending.

The overall vision is important because another recurring theme from successful candidates in the election was the need to preserve the quality of life and environmental stewardship Hilton Head has long been renowned for. The island's natural resources should not be squandered for the long term in the quest for a short-term economic fix. Hilton Head must continue to set itself apart.

The time for campaigning has passed. Now we need specific goals and specific steps to achieve those goals. Every resident, property owner and business owner on Hilton Head should know and understand where the council is leading us.