David Lauderdale

Yikes, not another Sea Pines! It’s a skirmish between Hilton Head’s two largest gated communities

Oceanfront mansions, yachts — even a treehouse. Here’s what’s for rent on Hilton Head

Looking for a room on Hilton Head? The island's short-term rentals include oceanfront mansions, homes in exclusive gated communities, overnight stays on a yacht — even a few treehouses. Here's what we found on Airbnb and VRBO.
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Looking for a room on Hilton Head? The island's short-term rentals include oceanfront mansions, homes in exclusive gated communities, overnight stays on a yacht — even a few treehouses. Here's what we found on Airbnb and VRBO.

This is pathetic.

I borrowed that phrase from one of our dear readers.

This reader fired the first shot in a perceived skirmish between Hilton Head Island’s two largest gated communities.

He fired it from Sea Pines. And he aimed it at Hilton Head Plantation.

Both sides already have armed guards and fences in place. And they would have plenty of foot soldiers in the form of residents, especially if these well-armed militias could fight with their walkers.

Sea Pines has the Harbour Town Lighthouse, from which a Sam Adams salesman could send secret signals by lantern. But Hilton Head Plantation may have an air force tucked away somewhere.

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Surely, we can find a truce. But here’s the first shot:

“This is pathetic. HH Plant wishes it was half as nice as Sea Pines,” the reader said via email.


He was responding to our story: “Will a Hilton Head gated community ban short-term rentals soon. Here’s what they decided.”

Hilton Head Plantation’s resident leadership has taken a move toward banning short-term rentals in its 4,000-acre confines on the north end of the island.

Residents will decide it in a vote next January.

A crowd showed up for a meeting this week when that plan was put in motion.

And our Kati Kokal reported:

“Several residents said they do not want the community to become tourist-saturated ‘like Sea Pines.’ ”

As fast as you can punch the “indignation” key on your computer, the fight was on.

Suddenly, Hilton Head islanders have something new to look down upon. All this time, we’ve looked down upon condos, time shares, day trippers, newcomers, tourists, developers, Yankees, blue hairs and women with curlers in their hair. Now we can look down upon each other.

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Sea Pines

Personally, as a card-carrying resident of Hilton Head Plantation, I do not mind the Sea Pines tourists.

In fact, I owe my livelihood to them.

Now, it’s true that they seem to be an overly-energetic lot with bicycles attached to their derrieres. They must be born like that because even the toddlers are attached to bicycles.

The gate fee gets you into Sea Pines Resort. But what can you do without shelling out more cash once you get there? Check out these 10 free things to make the most out of a day pass at Sea Pines.

I’ve wanted to roll down my window as I gingerly drive through Sea Pines amid all the bicyclers and runners and tennis players and golfers and walkers and horseback riders and photographers and birders and sailors and yoga exercisers. I want to shout: “Would y’all please sit down for a minute on your vacation? You’re making me tired just looking at you.”

But let the record show that, as a Hilton Head Plantation resident, I get into their pearly gates free. And the Sea Pinesians get waved into our “half as nice” place, whereas they would have to tunnel their way into Wexford.

That’s because, skirmish or no skirmish, the two places share the same DNA.

Hilton Head Plantation

Hilton Head Plantation used to be a part of the Sea Pines portfolio.

It was a quiet land of tall pines and tomato fields, far from the madding crowd.

Sea Pines creator Charles E. Fraser coveted it in the early 1970s as he spread the Sea Pines gospel to foreign parts.

He was blending development with the human soul’s yearnings for beauty and vacations that regenerate and invigorate. The Hilton Head Plantation tract gave him a place to spread the word, right here at home.

But then came the sharp economic downturn of the mid-1970s (think: oil embargo). And Fraser lost control of that big swath of land he had bought and planned. The banks took it over and hired a giant of Hilton Head history to bring it to life, the late Gen. Howard Davis, who not only helped us win World War II from his cockpit but ended up practically running the whole Air Force.

Hilton Head

Davis and Fraser learned to admire each other, and they worked closely together.

Hilton Head islanders today owe both men, immeasurably, but probably don’t even know it.

Davis arrived in November 1976. He found 34 residents in Hilton Head Plantation and another 78 lots sold “mostly to Sea Pines residents who bought the lots early as an investment, hoping to make a tidy bit after two or three years,” he said.

He was puzzled by a master plan calling for 16,000 dwelling units on 4,000 acres.

Davis later wrote: “If you add up the acres used for four proposed golf courses, many paved roads, a water and sewer disposal plant, and no construction on any wetlands, you are down to close to 3,000 acres of buildable land. When you divide 3,000 acres into 16,000-plus building sites, you average about 5.3 building sites per acre. I concluded the first time I saw the master plan that the density was grossly over planned …”

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Hilton Head Plantation then, deliberately, by design, became a residential place with precious few condos or businesses and no hotels. And, it would seem, no short-term vacation rentals. But a change to land-use covenants will have to approved by 67 percent of the property owners to specifically ban short-term rentals.

Davis told me that he envisioned a development of full-time residents, where neighbors would wave to one another as they walked to their brown mailbox in the morning in their bathrobes to get the paper.

And that’s what it is. And that’s what it needs to stay. Because it worked.

In 1981, a hall-of-fame Hilton Head Plantation sales team sold 438 lots at an average price of $45,000 — up from 167 lots averaging $15,000 in 1977. Davis said that, in his 10 years at the helm, they closed about $200 million in real estate sales.

So let Sea Pines be Sea Pines. Let us be us. But if they don’t pipe down, we’ll march down there in our bathrobes and deliver more bad news.

The Sea Pines main gate, where residents get waved through. Staff file.