Reject the Annexation of Bay Point Island into the Town of Hilton Head
Bay Point is a small island at the mouth of the Port Royal Sound, closest to St. Phillips’s Island and St. Helena Island. It lies across the waterway from Hilton Head and is only accessible by boat.
South Carolina’s annexation laws allow for “line of sight” annexations, meaning if you can see it, the property owner can request annexation. The Bay Point owners have requested annexation and Hilton Head has accepted their application, contingent on several details.
This annexation came up quickly and out of the public eye. We ask Hilton Head to reject the annexation and development of this fragile island. For many reasons, this annexation should not move forward.
Evidence of Intent to hide from Public Scrutiny:
The investors, who are asking for this annexation, went out of their way to avoid public scrutiny of their request for annexation. It appears that they intentionally met with members of the Hilton Head Town Council in a way that technically allowed them to avoid having to give public notice of these meetings, but did, in fact, conduct discussions with Council members that were intended to make plans for the official business of the Council. This is a clear violation of the intent, if not also the law, of the open meeting requirements of the State of South Carolina and should be investigated by the Solicitors Office. Duffy Stone, the Solicitor of the 14th Circuit Court that covers Hilton Head, should immediately open an investigation into these secret meeting and see if there was any illegal activity by the investors or the Council Members who met with them.
Furthermore, the actions Council has taken to this point, toward the annexation, should be considered invalid and be resubmitted and begun anew to allow for the period of public comment that was intended by the open meeting laws of the State of South Carolina.
Infrastructure: Water and sewer would be expensive and impractical to provide to the island. There are no existing septic permits and private utilities carry costly risks to the environment. The resort will also need electricity. Even if the proposed resort utilizes solar or wind power, it will need to fuel a backup generator and that fuel will need to be delivered to the island by some combination of, boats and vehicles. Ultimately, the town of Hilton Head is responsible for the longterm liability of these operations.
Emergency services: The island is only accessible by boat and would need to be served by Town police and fire services in case of an emergency. Hurricane evacuations and other storms would also pose threats to people and property, and The Town of Hilton Head would be responsible. The equipment and personnel that would be required to provide these services would be vastly more expensive than those that would be required for an adjacent piece of land.
Barrier islands and storms: Homes up and down the South Carolina coast are already being washed away and state and local taxpayers on the hook for protection and beach management. We cannot continue to develop on erosional beaches. Anyone who was spent time on Bay Point can tell you that it is, like all barrier islands, in a constant state of flux. The shoreline this year is dramatically different than it was last year and it will be different again next year as storms and erosion continue to reshape it.
Although it would be irresponsible for the Town of Hilton Head to allow for the development of a resort on Bay Point, it is fair for the owners to believe that they should be able to take advantage of the investment that they made in the island. They could still do that under the terms of the existing zoning of the island as they purchased it. It would be reasonable to allow for "fish camps" and other low impact uses of the island to continue as it is zoned now, but not for a resort hotel to be added to an island that was previously uninhabited and in no way historically connected to the Town of Hilton Head.
Wildlife: Annexation and development could harm what the National Audubon Society has designated as an Important Bird Area. At high tide from December through March, Bay Point Island holds around 5,000 shorebirds and that number can sometimes reach 8,000. This is only possible because there is minimal human disturbance on Bay Point Island. As the Audubon Society has noted: “no other area within miles approaches the holding power of this island and inlet to shorebirds in winter.”
Regional planning: Rouge annexations like this, well outside of town boundaries, threaten county and regional plans. Beaufort County has already lived through the "annexation wars" that followed the County's compressive plan. It seemed that all of the municipalities were behaving reasonably and respecting the obvious natural boundaries of their jurisdictions. But by reaching across the Port Royal Sound to annex a piece of property that the Town of Hilton Head has had no traditional relationship with, solely for the purpose of raising revenue is unprecedented even by the low standards of what was allowed in the late 90's when every developer was rushing to get annexed into any city and out of the jurisdiction of Beaufort County.
As noted widely in the news, the developers asked for annexation by the Town of Port Royal before approaching Hilton Head. Port Royal rejected this annexation and instead abided by the regional plans that protect growth and development across Beaufort County. Similarly, county officials were left in the dark.
What is next for Hilton Head: Line of Sight could allow the town to extend its boundaries to Daufuskie island, or (now directly) to properties on St. Helena, a valuable agricultural and rural island. Both islands have distinct character and resources and should not be part of the town of Hilton Head. Making Bay Point Island part of Hilton Head goes against local town plans, county plans and regional plans and opens the door for unknown annexations with more financial and environmental costs for residents.
Allowing this annexation, would be no more appropriate than if the City of Beaufort were to annex the unincorporated parts of Hilton Head Island via Paris Island and the Pinkney Island Wildlife refuge. It is important to maintain the obvious natural boundaries of our municipalities and not get caught chasing false promises of "free money" for the Town of Hilton Head. If a deal is too good to be true, then it is just that.
Long after these developers have packed their bags and left town, it will be the citizens of Beaufort County and the Town of Hilton Head who will be left to pick up the pieces. With all of the infrastructure work that needs to be done in Hilton Head and Beaufort County, do the voters of Hilton Head really want to be on the hook for subsidizing development that they will probably never set foot on, miles across the sound? Or would it be better for them to use their resources to respond to the existing needs of the town and not the subsidizing of development of a fragile barrier island? The answer is obvious.
- Hilton Head Town Council
Reject the Annexation of Bay Point Island into the Town of Hilton Head
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