“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”
– Yogi Berra
Hilton Head Island knows where it is going.
We know because over the past 18 months, more than 3,000 of our citizens participated in developing a vision for our future. This astoundingly large representation of our community worked together to make clear what we want for our home:
▪ Environmental sustainability.
▪ An inclusive, multidimensional community.
▪ Connectedness and collaboration — within our community and in our region.
▪ Right-sized infrastructure via innovative solutions.
Of critical importance is the usefulness of this vision — its clarity.
Take right-sized infrastructure as it relates to transportation. Unlike cities with few natural barriers, on an island we cannot expand our landmass. So if, for example, we increase the width of our bridges from four to six lanes and extend those lanes further into our community, the result may well be more vehicles crowding into the same mass. That’s called traffic.
So, yes, we need right-sized infrastructure implemented with innovation — just one of the conclusions reached by our citizens.
Our citizens also made clear in the vision that they want to highlight our unique culture and history.
For instance, the story of Mitchelville, the first freedman’s town in America, established prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, had languished here for decades. The vision represents a mandate to continue the work we have begun during the past few years to preserve, protect and enhance Mitchelville, as well as all of our rich historical and cultural assets.
Along with infrastructure, culture and history, our citizens declared clearly the importance of our environment to our lives and livelihoods. This is not surprising, given Charles Fraser’s legacy of not imposing development on the environment, but rather blending it in.
Our citizens want us to excel as stewards of our precious natural resources. But for a while, it seemed that we lost sight of the paramount importance of Mr. Fraser’s precept.
Prior to the approval of the vision report — and over my own and Councilman David Ames’ fervent objections — Town Council voted to approve density increases enabling lockout units and timeshares to be built on land previously zoned for recreational purposes.
The vision will cause these kinds of zoning decisions to be made afresh against the backdrop of being excellent stewards of the environment.
And, in the last few years, we’ve combined efforts with our neighboring municipalities and Beaufort County to establish and strengthen regional initiatives, such as the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation and the Beaufort County Heritage Tourism Corporation.
There are other collaborative planning efforts underway as well. With the vision pillar of collaboration, our continued participation in these efforts will be expected and the appropriate resources dedicated to them.
That we now have a planning tool to enable us to coalesce around the values of our citizens and the features of our island home that we have together concluded are truly important — even vital — is a worthy achievement.
The vision to “Reinvent Sustainability” will inform our Comprehensive Plan and Land Management Ordinance for the future. Absent a vision, these two tools of the town have failed to keep us focused on what is most important to us. Now we are empowered to make more effective decisions to preserve and enhance those values and features.
Three thousand of our fellow citizens participated in the visioning process — more than all previous planning efforts combined (including Comp Plan updates).
We hope that number increases as we enter Phase II of the visioning initiative.
Many of you have expressed support for this vision. Some have cast aspersions. I respect the input and the results yielded to date, and I’d ask you to respect them, too.
One voice carries weight with me. Three thousand simply must be heard — loudly and clearly.
David Bennett is mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island.