Written by Mark E. Lett
For those tracking the growth and development of Hilton Head Island, here’s a suggestion: Don’t blink.
The town has a hot list of projects coming into view to upgrade, update and – in some cases – upend life on the island.
The stepped-up pace of change follows a choppy period of fits and starts caused by COVID-related health and economic uncertainties.
“There’s a lot going on – a lot,” said Mayor Alan Perry. “We had two years of COVID and now we have a lot on the table.”
The challenge, he said, is “to get it right.”
The Hilton Head game plan is to utilize a handful of comprehensive and detailed documents advanced by town leaders and stakeholders.
A “Strategic Action Plan” spells out an ambitious blueprint for “our vision for the community over the next two fiscal years,” said Town Manager Marc Orlando in rolling out strategies ranging from protecting natural resources and historic neighborhoods to adding so-called “workforce housing,” and enhancing roads, parks and beaches.
With that, the town is pressing ahead with a Capital Projects Fund of nearly $40 million for the 2024 fiscal year. Among the targets:
• $11 million to improve the safety, convenience and appeal of roads, paths and intersections;
• $4.5 million for beach renourishment, parking and access;
• $9.1 million for parks and recreation facilities, including baseball, soccer, basketball, pickleball, basketball. Also picnic areas and playgrounds.
• Some $15 million for equipment and vehicles for fire services and public safety.
“Through careful planning and priority-based budgeting, we’ve positioned ourselves to invest funds into revitalizing our island, energizing our economy and enhancing our quality of life,” Orlando said.
The activity comes as Hilton Head Island observes the 40th anniversary of the town’s incorporation and the 360th anniversary of the sighting of the island by English Captain William Hilton, who was aboard his ship “The Adventure.”
In reviewing the island’s front-and-center projects for the year ahead, Mayor Perry cites initiatives that include:
A key to the town’s success in managing growth is the acquisition and use of property. Over 40 years, Hilton Head has spent some $150 million to acquire more than 300 parcels of land covering more than 2,000 acres.
The land purchases are essential to guiding economic development, providing water access, preserving the environment, and balancing growth and green space and livability, the town said.
Among the most significant areas for attention is the so-called “Mid-Island Tract” — 103 acres inside boundaries formed by Hilton Head Parkway and Dillon and Union Cemetery roads.
Acquired by the town a decade ago and now vacant, the tract is in line for a community park, a playground, picnic pavilions, an event pavilion, multi-use sports fields and other amenities. Park features are expected to include community gardens, a nature preserve, an interactive water area and space for weddings and other events.
The Mid-Island park is part of an overall review of public spaces, said Perry, adding “we need to make certain our parks are best in class.”
The tract tucks into an overall Mid-Island District where the town plans an array of initiatives to “reimagine” and add commercial, retail and residential centers and a cohesive historic district. The district includes areas along Union Cemetery, Beach City and Dillon roads, to Broad Creek (including areas along the William Hilton Parkway) and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ongoing development of Mid-Island continues as land in strategic locations is added to the town’s portfolio. Among those:
• Shelter Cove – The town council voted in June to spend nearly $4 million to acquire the site of a former Cracker Barrel restaurant, adjacent to property already held by the town. The purchase is expected to enable extension of the park and pathway system along Broad Creek and include a boardwalk. “This is a strategic property acquisition that protects sensitive Board Creek frontage for open space, park and recreational opportunities and will enhance the quality of our natural environment for residents and visitors,” said Perry.
• Mathews Drive – Officials said they expect to close a $350,000 deal to purchase a half-acre on Mathews Drive, described by Perry as important to “protecting sensitive Broad Creek frontage for green space” and preserving the creek’s environment. The tract is at the mouth of the creek, across the street from Central Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
• Bryant Road – The town acquired 7.19 acres at 30 Bryant Road for $3.4 million, with an eye toward developing housing for island workers. The site off Spanish Wells Road near the Cross Island Parkway formerly was a mobile home park site.
Honoring and Preserving History
Officials said the five-member board of the Gullah. — established last fall — is close to selecting a director.
That decision would move the town a step closer toward protecting the “historic and culturally sensitive neighborhoods” that are vital part of island history. Those areas include: Baygall, Big Hill, Chaplin, Gardner, Grassland, Jarvis, Jonesville, Marshland, Mitchelville, Spanish Wells, Squire Pope, and Stoney.
For the year ahead, the town has earmarked $5.3 million in state and county grants and funds. The mission: To serve neighborhoods where generations of native Islanders “live and strive to preserve their culture.”
The organization’s focus calls for promoting business expansion and retention, pursuing affordable housing, encouraging entrepreneurialism and providing land planning assistance
“The Corporation has been formed with a goal of stabilizing, protecting, and promoting historic and culturally sensitive communities,” said Krishana Perry, the town’s principal planner for Historic Neighborhood Preservation.
“It will create strategic programs related to, but not necessarily limited to, economic development initiatives, affordable housing, streetscaping which includes the improvement of public roadways through design, landscaping, and lighting among other improvement, neighborhood planning, targeted investment and financial resource provider, resident education, and other support services opportunities.”