News Release

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Town Council Adopts Land Use Recommendations Benefitting the Island’s Gullah Geechee Neighborhoods

July 21, 2021

With adoption of land use recommendations primarily targeting properties within Hilton Head Island’s historic Gullah Geechee neighborhoods, native Islander families will now have greater opportunities to protect land they have owned for decades.

The Hilton Head Island Town Council on Tuesday voted to expand its Land Management Ordinance (LMO) to define and include uses for family compounds and family subdivisions - two amendments that will help families better preserve land for future generations. The amendments go into effect immediately.

"We have worked on these amendments based on feedback from Gullah Geechee families and how they see them as benefitting their families. This is a large step forward in the Town's efforts to help protect and preserve the Gullah Geechee culture and the limited amount of land that remains in the hands of native Islanders whose families acquired them long after the Civil War," said Sheryse DuBose, the Town's Historic Neighborhoods Preservation Administrator. "The concept of family compound honors the communal living traditions that exist in many of the native Island communities, where generations of family members share land and have built homes."

"I'm certainly pleased that we have reached this point, and I hope our actions are well received by native Islanders. I want to thank the members of our Gullah Geechee Land and Cultural Preservation Task Force for their patience and support, Town staff for their hard work and the Town Council members for their thorough consideration," said Mayor John McCann. "Preserving Gullah Geechee culture has been a Town Council priority for many years. These LMO amendments are just one of the solutions that will make a difference. The steps we are taking will go a long way in accomplishing our goal."

The recommendations for family compound and family subdivision stem from the Gullah Geechee Preservation Project Report prepared by The Walker Collaborative, the consultant the Town hired two years ago to explore ways it could address longstanding concerns within its historic neighborhoods. Town Council accepted the report in November 2019. Family compound and family subdivision were identified as top priority projects.

The family compound amendment allows multiple homes to be built on a single parcel of land with decreased setbacks, buffers, and access widths. The property owner who is building on the family’s land would be responsible for infrastructure at the point of development.

The family subdivision amendment allows property to be subdivided without putting in all of the required infrastructure up front. This gives a family the option to build on the parcel or save it for future generations. This amendment also has specific requirements for access easements and rights of way, depending on the number of parcels that are subdivided.

The uses permitted as a result of these two amendments are granted as long as the property exists within a historic neighborhood, has belonged to the same family since 1956 when the first bridge to Hilton Head Island bridge was built, and is owned by family members who are biologically or legally part of the same lineage or who share a common ancestor, DuBose said.

"My parents bought property on Hilton Head in the 1920s. If we continue at the rate we’re going without subdividing, the number of heirs connected to one parcel will be out of hand and we would lose what our parents worked hard for," said Marvelina Clemmons, whose family owns property in the Mitchelville neighborhood. "With a family subdivision, I can rightly pass this land on to my children. I would like to see the whole of native Islanders benefit from the passing of the family compound and family subdivision amendments."

The Island's historic neighborhoods that would benefit from the family compound and family subdivision amendments include those where a large percentage of native Islander family members currently reside, DuBose said. Among them are Chaplin, Marshland/Gardner, Spanish Wells, Jarvis/Jonesville, Squire Pope, Big Stoney, Little Stoney, Bay Gall, Grassland, Big Hill and Mitchelville.

For more information, contact Sheryse DuBose at 843-341-4683 or

Carolyn Grant, Communications Director