'Going green' old story in island's development

Hilton Head Island long has sold itself on its environmental beauty.

A recommitment to sustainable development and "green" marketing is welcome.

The goal is to re-establish the island's prominence in environmental stewardship and draw more tourists under a "green" flag.

"The natural beauty of the area and protection of the environment is what draws people to the island," said Susan Thomas, vice president of the visitor bureau.

But marketing is not protecting and preserving. There's more to it than featuring egrets and marsh vistas in ads. It requires a commitment to protecting our natural resources for their own sakes. The rest should follow.

For decades, Hilton Head set the standard for environmental protections and real estate development. Developer Charles Fraser laid the groundwork, but even Fraser could invoke the wrath of people who thought he went too far.

And those who followed him sometimes were driven by short-term gain, not long-term benefits. At the heart of the town's incorporation in 1983 was defining "good" development and making sure it happened.

Disagreement comes in our varying views on what constitutes good environmental stewardship and how big an impact we should have on the landscape.

It's a balancing act, and one that Hilton Head, in the grand scheme of coastal development, has negotiated with some success.

Hilton Head Island recently became the first community in the state to receive Audubon International's Green Community designation.

Town staff began pursuing the certification in January to showcase Hilton Head's environmental stewardship, including sea-turtle protection, beach renourishment, planned green space, flood mitigation, water-quality standards and tree protection.

But it's worth noting that aspects of nearly every one of those initiatives have faced criticism and opposition over the years.

The town's land-buying program and the appropriate use of that money has fomented much debate, and more will come.

The town will have to navigate carefully as it moves forward with a plan to shift the focus of that program from preserving open space and reducing development to encouraging redevelopment.

The idea is to buy distressed commercial property and convert some of it to green space or combine it with existing green space and parks. The rest would be "banked" for future development.

Hilton Head officials face the dual tasks of maintaining the island's "green" reputation, while encouraging redevelopment.

That's no small feat, but one worth undertaking.