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A Change of Plans

October 2018Mayor David Bennett as seen in Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

We stood prepared for Hurricane Florence last month and breathed a collective sigh of relief when she missed. We're grateful for the efforts of our fine Emergency Operations to ready us, and also for the courageous and generous islanders who rushed to bring help to those impacted. The fact remains that we were ready, just as we were for Irma last year and Matthew the year before. Since October is still hurricane season, it's comforting to know that we have a plan-one that is reevaluated and improved after every event and before each new season.

Of course, good planning is helpful beyond crisis preparedness. And September's only Town Council meeting revealed again that our island's process for planning and development is not ready for October and beyond. See just how beneficial an overhaul could be by visiting the town's website and observing the difficulties of applying the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Management Ordinance (LMO) to produce an acceptable result to a rezoning request-a result ensuring that the heritage and character of our island is preserved in the future by any development today. And take note of one citizen's remarks during "Appearance by Citizens" that reflect the current gap. http://www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov/council/tcvideoarchive.cfm.

Fortunately, we've created a tool to serve as a catalyst. To those who care not for the title, call it what you want, but the final product of Phase I of Hilton Head Island - Our Future resulted in an extensive report that reflects the passions of 3,000 islanders for the place we call home. It was overseen by a vigilant project management team and orchestrated by project lead Emily Sparks, in coordination with future iQ and staff.

What concepts can we extract from its pillars to align our planning with our values? Consider some of these:

  • "Seek to apply (or create) best-in-class standards for all major projects."
  • "Community engagement sessions revealed that there is a deep desire for Hilton Head Island to be great, not merely good."
  • "Sustainability is a cornerstone of the Hilton Head Island history and brand. There is enormous interest and potential in this topic area that could improve the community, economy, and quality of life."
  • "Explore the 'Future of Tourism.'"
  • "Build relevance to young professionals."
  • "Healthy aging economy... opportunities in healthcare, healthy aging, and active retiree support."
  • "Many of the ideas about how to diversify the local economy involve creating more of a 'circular economy,' which includes the concept of capturing more of the value locally. This includes leveraging more tourism-related activity around local assets and focusing on revitalization and renewal."

We can incorporate precise high-quality standards and measurements into our planning process. We can reconstitute our Comprehensive Plan, modify our LMO and develop a Master Plan for areas of the island that aren’t already subject to Planned Unit Development agreements. We can preserve the heritage and character of our island, while making significant progress in addressing our needs.

Many of our citizens and organizations identified these pillars beforehand, and others have since adopted some of them. The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra's new Sound Waves venue that will diversify its audiences and the Outside Foundation's Oyster Recycling and Reef Build Initiative that will create environmental sustainability are but two examples of multitudes!

October's plans must also include due diligence for November's election. Why aren't more candidates for local leadership talking about Visioning? It's not a matter of life and death like a natural disaster could be. Its value may have been diminished by a combination of fear and misrepresentation. But just as sure as a hurricane or storm surge could strike, we can count on the negative impact of unplanned growth. The answer to controlling growth begins with implementing the Vision's pillars and strategies into our planning process.

It's nice to talk about Charles Fraser's vision, Hilton Head Island's future, and consensus-building. But it will take more than talk to change the way we continue to grow. It will take changes in our planning process to fill the gap between what we value and what we produce-to create harmony between our town resources, our elected officials and our citizens and businesses.

When we plan for emergencies and anticipated life changes, we visualize the outcomes we desire. The process is the same for our town, its leaders, businesses and citizens. Let's get prepared. If we do, we will all benefit, and future generations will be grateful.