November 2011

Mayor Laughlin: November 2011

Author: Drew Laughlin | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Land as a Tool

At a recent, well-attended town council land acquisition workshop, council members and interested residents discussed the status of and potential use of town-owned land. The Town of Hilton Head currently owns 1,213 acres of land as a result of our long-standing land acquisition program. As part of the overall discussion about land, I introduced an idea that I hope spurs debate in our community.

Our land acquisition program began in earnest in the late ’80s and was modeled from a program created in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Our goal then was to manage and control growth on the island. Rather than take land, council sought to purchase land at fair market value. Land acquisition became a smart growth tool. The program has enhanced property values; reduced potential development, particularly along U.S. 278; reduced potential traffic; kept the island green; preserved historic sites; and created opportunities for park and recreation development.

Our land acquisition goals have since evolved. In the beginning, much focus was on preserving wetlands and protecting ecological areas. Over time, the focus shifted to reducing potential high-density commercial development. Perhaps it is now time to consider evolving our approach to the use of existing property and future acquisitions. Should we declare victory in our goal to manage and control growth and now assess where we are from an island-wide, economic viability standpoint?
Part of the public discussion I want to encourage is whether we should consider future land acquisition for purposes beyond park development and preservation of green space. Should we shift our future investments from land acquisition to include other purposes such as investment in infrastructure to stimulate revitalization of targeted areas?

Our program is the envy of many and is one reason our island receives as many accolades as it does. More importantly, it is probably an important reason you chose to live here. We enjoy some of the most beautiful natural resources in America, and this “amenity” is but one of many offered on our island. While we will continue to preserve this amenity, we ought to think about the fuller experience for our residents and visitors, and this means considering a repurpose of existing land and perhaps a different strategy in acquiring future land.

The town government is not the only answer, but I firmly believe we should be part of the solution. Part of the solution, one tool if you will, is use of land. Development and redevelopment should start outside the public sector. The town should commit itself to being a facilitator in achieving development and redevelopment. Development and redevelopment will not be unfettered; rather, the town and its residents can manage both while being a facilitator through thoughtful repurposing that will lead to revitalization.

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