Developers of proposed Bay Point resort hear from a skeptical public

7 mins read

By MINDY LUCAS

Around 150 to 200 people attended a public meeting held at the St. Helena Branch Library on Tuesday, Oct. 15 to hear the latest on a proposed resort for Bay Point.

For the first time since the project was proposed, residents heard from developers as well as owners of the 347-acre property at the south end of St. Helena Island.

The project, which has been in the works for several years, has come back into the public eye as planners now unveil additional details about the development while seeking approval from the county for a special use permit that would allow for ecotourism.

In order to receive that designation, certain criteria such as offering interpretive or other outdoor educational programs must be met, which representatives of Six Senses, the high-end global hotel resort and spa company that will operate the proposed resort, said at the Oct. 15 meeting they more than meet.

“When Six Senses gets involved, the environment improves,” said Amber Beard, a sustainability advisor for the company.

The company, which specializes in ecotourism and sustainability, currently operates 17 resort properties around the world, some in such sensitive environments as the Seychelles. It practices such environmentally friendly measures as composting and organic gardening, plastic-free water stations and the preservation of local plant and wildlife.

In addition, each of the resorts maintains its own “sustainability fund,” which contributes money to its surrounding community. Money, Beard explained, that funds such projects as water conservation and other infrastructure projects, educational programs and habitat restoration.

However, those in attendance remained skeptical of the project, even after the company detailed its commitment to the environment and low-impact philosophy.

“Anytime that anybody infringes upon anything that has never been touched, you are leaving a carbon footprint,” said longtime area educator Cynthia Gregory-Smalls, among more than a dozen area residents who voiced concerns at the meeting.

If plans for the resort move forward, guests will be brought to the island by water ferry primarily from Port Royal, though Skull Creek and St. Helena are also being considered.

Guest quarters would be small, single-story, but no taller than two-story, villas made of wooden “post and beam” construction designed to blend in with the tree line. The resort’s capacity will be limited to around 50 guests, planners said.

Others had concerns over how the resort expects to stave off beach erosion in an area that juts out into Port Royal Sound and is known for erosion and “boneyard beaches” made up of trees that have succumbed to rising tides and hurricanes.

Tim Pitcher, president of Luckett & Farley Development, a Kentucky-based architectural and engineering firm, and also one of the owners, attempted to field questions about erosion and other concerns from those who attended the meeting.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen on that beach front,” he said. “No one knows for a certainty anything, but we do know what the scientists tell us.”

However, Rikki Parker with the Coastal Conservation League said that while the Six Senses brand is a “good ethos” to have, it is “the wrong place and the wrong time” for the resort citing the area’s erosion rates, rising sea levels and the increasing frequency of hurricanes.

She went on to say that a project like Bay Point sets a “dangerous precedent” in that it would open St. Helena Island up for “resort-style eco-tourism development.”

Others such as Okatie resident Carol Derolf voiced concerns over development in general.

“You have to live here to understand how people are feeling,” she began. “We’re seeing what happened in the Charleston area. It’s hard to believe that a town like Mount Pleasant can be destroyed through bad development and planning in five years.”

She went on to take issue with Beaufort County leadership.

“I see Beaufort County being blacktopped,” she said. “How are the people representing us allowing the developers to do it?”

After the meeting, Pitcher said he wasn’t surprised by residents’ reactions to his group’s plans since people had promised “a lot of things” and had not delivered on them over time.

In 2016, developers of the project had discussed the possibility of annexation with the City of Hilton Head but withdrew their request after certain issues, such as providing power to the island, proved to be challenging, he said.

Since that time, the group has worked to put together a “better plan,” he said. The cost of the project is estimated to run about $100 million and could take “a few years” before plans for construction begin, he said.

In the meantime, Pitcher said his group is looking at hosting another public meeting in Port Royal and follow-up meetings with the St. Helena community.

“We want to keep people informed, not because there is some requirement to do this, but because we care about informing people about what’s going on with this,” he said. “This relationship is long-term and even though there is some skepticism currently, we believe the … proof is in the pudding. We will change those opinions over time and we will be accepted in the community. That’s our real hope.”

Most people at Tuesday night’s meeting seemed a bit skeptical of the proposed “eco-friendly” resort being planned for Bay Point Island. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

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