Density, infrastructure conflicts shut down rezoning talks

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Collins Doughtie of Bluffton, left, listens to Paul Sommerville, chairman of Beaufort County Council, following the May 4 meeting of the council's development agreement subommittee. Tabor Vaux, chair of the subcommittee, center, greets other attendees.

The normally quiet environs of the Hilton Head branch of the Beaufort County Public Library shattered when whoops of delight erupted May 4 following a seven-minute meeting.

County Councilman Roberts "Tabor" Vaux, chairman of the Beaufort County Council development agreement subcommittee, had just read the official statement that discussions were over between the county and Scratch Golf LLC, owners of Hilton Head National Golf Course.

"The viability of this development agreement is contingent on many factors, including the underlying application to amend the comprehensive planned future land use map and zoning map. This subcommittee, in the presence of the public, previously offered to support a rezoning request of 130 acres of the 299 acres that the owner has requested. Scratch Golf has recently submitted a revised proposal, however the revised proposal still requests the 299 acres, or the entire parcel be rezoned.

"In the opinion of this subcommittee, the rezoning and map amendment request, which has been made by Scratch Golf, is unreasonable in size, scope and magnitude. It is inconsistent with goals and policies of the Beaufort County Comprehensive Plan, and would threaten the public health, safety and public welfare of the community. Therefore it is my recommendation as chairman of this subcommittee that we terminate efforts to negotiate a development agreement unless or until Scratch Golf comes to the table with a proposal that is more reasonable and consistent with the goals and policies of the Beaufort County Comprehensive Plan."

Scratch Golf's latest attempt at persuading the county to rezone the property in order to build a multi-faceted development was their third strike and they were out at the plate.

Hilton Head National was built in 1989 as a public, 27-hole golf course with the clubhouse and a maintenance building as the sole structures on the property.

The extension of the Bluffton Parkway required the compensated sacrifice of nine holes, but the course remains pristine and profitable.

The course reduction and the general decline in golf prompted the owner to look at other uses for the property, hence a development request that included housing, schools, a convention center, entertainment venue and retail.

In a written statement he handed out following the briefing, Bill Palmer, president of Scratch Golf LLC, stated that the owners have "strived to be good neighbors to the Bluffton community for nearly 30 years."

"In this rezoning process, we remain committed to working with Beaufort County to reach a result that works for the County and the overall Bluffton community as well as for us. We have involved numerous parties in the process of reshaping our original request and have been factoring in public feedback we have received.

"We ask for continued good faith efforts by all parties to reach a result that is mutually beneficial for all sides."

Most of the 100 people attending the meeting seemed jubilant but few were as pleased at the outcome as longtime Bluffton resident Collins Doughtie, who had spearheaded the fight against the development.

"I think it's wonderful but I just want to warn people that this fight is not over. I have a feeling that they're going to try to go on a legal basis. I'm going to still keep people informed as to what's going on as much as I can," Doughtie said. "It's not over. I encourage people to keep signing that petition, making comments.

"Eventually, if it comes down to it," Doughtie continued, "I've got something in the works. I don't want to reveal what it is but it's going to be big. Because I want them to know this is not responsible development by any means and this is going to set a huge precedent for whatever happens from here on out."

The petition to which Doughtie referred is "Stop The Hilton Head National Project" on www.change.org, initiated by a group called Save Our Bluffton State of Mind.

The petition has been in circulation for several months, had 2,848 signatures at press time, and is aimed at getting the attention of the County Council.

Vaux, who represents Bluffton, Pritchardville and Daufuskie Island on the council, has been an outspoken opponent of the development.

"They refused to reduce the density and intensity and were adamant that the county would take over ownership and maintenance of the roads and infrastructure on the property," Vaux wrote in an email. "In a future application, they must reduce the density and intensity and agree that the county will not take over ownership and maintenance of the roads on the property. There would still be many other details to work out, but until those two issues get resolved, there's no point in talking details."

A regular session of the County Council will be held at 6 p.m. May 22 in the large meeting room at Bluffton Branch Library, 120 Palmetto Way.

It is expected that a vote on this matter will be taken by the full council at this session.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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