HARDEEVILLE LEADERS TALK CITY PLANNING
Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams and city manager Michael Czymbor have nearly 60 years of local management experience between them. They say this wealth of experience will help guide the city through the looming development boom, and they are committed to growing the city while preserving its character, environmental integrity and quality of life.
Here, the two discuss the city’s past, present and future.
Question. Describe Hardeeville now and what it will be like in 10 years.
Williams. Hardeeville is an emerging city. We have over 27,000 acres of undeveloped land under development agreements. There’s still a lot of undeveloped parcels in the city. We have 55 square miles, roughly the same as Bluffton. Our population is just under 6,000. Ten years from now, that will be 28,000 based on our modest projections. We’re getting an enormous amount of interest in our city. So the city will be quite different in 10 years.
Q. Identify the challenges and opportunities facing Hardeeville as it moves forward.
Czymbor: The benefits are more commercial opportunity, better places to live, a diversified economy, lowering of taxes. Hopefully, it will improve the quality of life. Cons are more traffic, pollution, congestion, changing the culture of the city.
Williams. Our challenge and what we’re hoping to accomplish is the blending of all the various demographic groups. We can conservatively estimate that half of the new residents will be seniors. You have Margaritaville, the expansion of Sun City. Other developments like East Argent and Hampton Point will attract a large number of empty nesters. But our core population downtown has been here for generations. We want to build a community spirit so that we can all feel part of one total.
Q. When in the past was the genesis of Hardeeville’s future?
Czymbor. In the early 2000s, the city was 5 square miles and roughly 2,000 people. From 2003 to 2008 or ’09, we had 13 development agreements and the city kept expanding. Then in the late 2000s the economic bubble burst and all the plans came to a screeching halt.
Q. What were the keys to negotiating with these companies, while serving Hardeeville’s needs and the developers’ needs?
Czymbor. A few years ago, when the mayor was elected and I became city manager and the economy started to get better, we purposely met with all these developers and property owners and said, “What do we need to do to jump-start this process and break down these obstacles for you to move forward with your developments?” It was a win-win. It was part of our effort but the changing and improving economy and the attractiveness of the Lowcountry really ignited the interest and spark in the city.
Williams. We understand where we want to go and what the challenges are, and we have brought to the staff a spirit of proactive objectives to achieve.
Q. In the winter of 2016, you announced your candidacy for mayor. One of your platform statements was to set “clear goals” for local government. Have you done that? What are they?
Williams. I think we’ve really come a long way. In the first month I was mayor, I called in all the business owners and said, “Let’s go on a magic carpet ride” that will fly over the city in the next 10 years and see what we want our city to look like. I was so happy everybody jumped on in it, and we call ourselves “Starship Hardeeville.” That’s the spirit of our city. Proactive, let’s get things done, let’s make this city what we want it to be.
Q. How do you respond to naysayers who say there’s too much development too soon?
Czymbor. Our goal is regional partnership. We want to learn from their successes. We’re embracing regional cooperation. We understand it’s not just about Hardeeville. What we do impacts Bluffton, Hilton Head, Jasper County and our other neighbors.
Williams. Our answer to the naysayer is this: No change comes without cost. Yes, there’s going to be a cost, no question, but we think the benefits will outweigh the costs. If we learn from our neighbors, everybody makes mistakes, and minimize ours by learning from someone else’s. That’s what we hope to do. … We’re also aware of the environment; we don’t want to put cement on every square inch of Hardeeville. We want to maintain our rural environment.
Q. How is your staff handling the mounting pressure ahead? Is staff size adequate to take everything on?
Czymbor. I hire good people and retain good people. We went from a staff of about 60 to about 100 over the past four years. As we grow, we’ll be adding policemen, firemen, planners and public works people.
Q. A lot of the people who move here from the Northeast and Midwest don’t want the go-go anymore. What do you say to them?
Williams. Go to Sun City and Margaritaville, and leave the go-go to Mike and I.