If the owner of a golf course in Bluffton gets a zoning change approval, the 18-hole Hilton Head National could become a village with hundreds of homes, offices, schools, a large hotel and an adventure park, among other facilities.
Scratch Golf LLC is expected to make its third request for such a change at the Beaufort County Council meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 9 at the County Government’s Robert Smalls Complex, 100 Ribaut Rd., Beaufort.
Because the course does not fall under Bluffton’s governing jurisdiction but is located in a geographic “doughnut hole,” any zoning requests go to the county.
If Collins Doughtie and 996 (as of press time) fellow petitioners get their way, the request will be disapproved or radically amended.
In his Change.org petition to the Beaufort County Council, “Stop The Hilton Head National Project!” Doughtie writes (all caps his), “IF YOU LIVE ANYWHERE NEAR THE HILTON HEAD NATIONAL GOLF COURSE, including Heritage Lakes, Foreman Hill Road, Alljoy Road and the Township of Bluffton, YOUR LIFESTYLE IS IN DANGER, OUR WATERS ARE IN DANGER, AND TRAFFIC WILL BE EVEN WORSE THAN IT NOW IS if the Beaufort County Council approves the development plans for the 300-acre tract of land where Hilton Head National Golf Course now sits.”
Doughtie, a long-time Bluffton resident, has strong reasons why he started the petition and objects to the development plans. “After the first zoning meeting, I saw what they had planned. To me, it was taking Bluffton in a direction that was going to be hard to rebound from,” Doughtie said about his petition. “It was a direction I was starting to see when they did the development on 46 and 278 where Sam’s is, without looking closely at stormwater runoff and things like trees.”
The latest application from Scratch Golf LLC, submitted last month, includes a proposal to build 300 apartment units, 300 single-family homes, a 500-room hotel, a 400-bed assisted living facility, a 1,500-seat performing arts center, two schools accommodating 1,200 students, and an adventure park with 650 parking spaces.
That will require 3,850 parking spaces, according to zoning requirements – without taking into account the parking needed for teachers, school staff, apartment complex employees, hotel employees and those working at the assisted living facility. There are also plans for 125,000 square feet of office space, a 100,000-square-foot convention center and 400,000 square feet of retail – 625,000 square feet of non-residential buildings that will require an additional 2,117 parking spaces.
The golf course currently is zoned as 279.2 acres rural (minimal structures) and 20 acres as regional center mixed-use – which means a range of retail services and office spaces, i.e., the current clubhouse, maintenance facilities and miscellaneous outlying structures.
Attempts to contact a spokesperson for Scratch Golf were unsuccessful.
When the owners applied in September 2013, the council disapproved the application because it did not include a traffic impact analysis (TIA) or a marketing analysis to show that the region could support such development.
According to a Dec. 1, 2016, county planning staff report, Scratch Golf LLC hired Bihl Engineering of Charleston to conduct a TIA that incorporated the requested development into its study.
Among the results detailed was the need to construct an overpass and ramp system at the intersection of Bluffton Parkway and Hilton Head National Drive, and widening 2,800 feet of Malphrus Road to four lanes from U.S. 278 to a proposed roundabout about 1,300 feet south of the intersection with the parkway.
The county hired Stantec, a transportation engineering consultant from North Charleston, to examine the report and proposed projects. According to the staff report, “Stantec generally agreed with the assumptions and projections made in the TIA and the proposed list of projects.” Stantec also provided a rough cost estimate of $12,650,000.
County councilman Roberts “Tabor” Vaux Jr., who represents Bluffton, Pritchardville and Daufuskie Island on county council, is concerned about what happens if and when the zoning changes are approved.
“The developer is coming out and saying ‘Look, we want you to rezone it to XYZ, this is the traffic impact analysis we need before we can break ground,’ ” Vaux said. “Are they bound by the TIA after it’s rezoned, or could they go get another one that says they only need to make $2 million in improvements? I don’t know.”
The Beaufort County planning staff has recommended approval of the proposed rezoning on the condition that a development agreement is “formulated and executed concurrently” with council’s approving the zoning changes.
Vaux believes that is the least that should happen. “For what they’re asking, they [the owners] should be willing to come to the table and ask for a development agreement. That would outline everyone’s roles and responsibilities and leave no questions,” he said. “This is going to require a lot of infrastructure and improvements to public roads, and they’re going to have to completely move the front entrance to Heritage Lakes. As of last week, I hadn’t seen any formal agreement between Heritage Lakes and the property owner. They need to get these details hammered out now. They can’t just sit back and think everything’s going to be okay.”
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka has concerns about the potential development and its impact on the surrounding area.
“I would support what Tabor has said. He’s not only my representative but he also cares about Bluffton. I would wholeheartedly support what he is asking for,” said Sulka. “I think they do need to discuss everything – stormwater runoff and the traffic impact. We’ve asked the county to provide us with those documents. I have not seen them yet but with the holidays they may still be on the way.”
Sulka said the developer has every right to make his request but she would like to see all of the players sit down and discuss everything before signing a development agreement.
“I just hope the county makes it where it will be a wonderful project and doesn’t affect our river. The town has spent millions on our stretch of it and we have paid a lot of money protecting the river that we all own,” Sulka added. “I’m nervous for what is going to happen in these spaces but I think we all need to be vigilant and make sure it is the right project and a good project.”
The change to Heritage Lake’s entrance and commitment to working with the subdivision’s POA is one of three items that the planning staff noted should be addressed in the development agreement.
The first item listed was the timing, cost and nature of funding for both the internal and off-site infrastructure improvements, such as the roads.
The application is expected to be on the agenda at the council’s Jan. 9 meeting in County Council chambers.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.