By Bill Rauch
Regular readers of this column may recall an analysis that appeared here in September 2016 showing that of the seven successful Beaufort County School District and countywide capital improvements referenda totaling about three-quarters of a billion dollars over the past 20 years, 60 percent of the money has gone to schools and roads in and around Bluffton.
Simply — and generously — stated, the Beaufort County Council didn’t adequately anticipate the public costs of the Sun City project when in 1991 they unanimously bought Del Webb’s argument that all the costs of the new city that would be built on the outskirts of Bluffton would be contained within the development.
We have been paying and paying ever since, and Bluffton has stayed pretty quiet. Why shouldn’t it?
The town of Bluffton had nothing formally to do with the 1991 Del Webb vote. However, let’s not forget most of the subsequent Del Webb spin-off development was permitted by Bluffton, which has further contributed to the public costs.
Interestingly, now things appear to be changing.
Bluffton is being driven by traffic jams and a new scarcity of parking to the tipping point. Oh yes, and by rising taxes too. The “rising tide,” it turned out, didn’t “float all boats.” It just floated the boats of the development community. And flashy speedboats they are.
As this column goes to press, Bluffton’s leaders are passing slow growth petitions.
The big paper companies’ timber tracts are all gone from Beaufort County now, so where will the new houses go?
No, not on the fairways. That was yesterday.
The new fashion is laying them up IN the fairways.
Golf courses along U.S. 278 are places into which millions of dollars have been invested within our recent memories for planning, clearing, filling out fairways and greens, sculpting out bunkers, building clubhouses and caddy shacks, making exotic grasses and shrubbery grow more beautifully and more.
But no matter. That was yesterday.
Take the case of the Hilton Head National Golf Club. Hilton Head National’s golf course was designed in 1988 by the great Gary Player and the new course was opened in 1990.
Now the property’s owner, Scratch Golf LLC, has asked Beaufort County to rezone the property from rural to a mix of commercial and residential neighborhood and hamlet designations under the county’s new CDC development code.
Where there are fairways, greens and bunkers, the owners seek now the government’s blessing to put 300 homes, 300 apartment units, 400,000 square feet of new retail space, a 500-room hotel, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, a 400-bed assisted living facility, a 1,500-seat performing arts center and a water park that would be visible from U.S. 278.
The new development will require two new schools be built, a flyover of U.S. 278 be constructed, and a new entrance fashioned that necessitates that at least one Heritage Lakes house be demolished, according to Tabor Vaux, who represents Bluffton on the Beaufort County Council.
Here’s the wrinkle. Hilton Head National isn’t contiguous to the town of Bluffton so it cannot be annexed into the town, and it is just outside Tabor Vaux’s councilmanic district. It is in Rick Caporale’s. But the traffic it will cause will be in Bluffton. So Vaux is asking who will pay.
Growth outside the town of Bluffton has been slow since 2008, and the county was caught a little flat-footed by Scratch Golf LLC’s proposal.
On Dec. 8, 2016, the county’s Planning Commission passed the rezoning 5-3 and sent the matter to the county council’s Nãtural Resources Committee, which rubber-stamped the rezoning and passed it along to the full Beaufort County Council.
That’s when reality began to set in.
On Jan. 9, the Beaufort County Council voted narrowly to table the rezoning until a development agreement can be negotiated.
Now a committee of county council members, chaired by Vaux, has been empanelled to formulate the agreement.
“This is a major, major project that is going to require tons of infrastructure. Who’s going to pay for that?” Vaux asks.
It’s a good question and one that could not be coming from a more appropriate corner.
Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.