Residents asked to once again take out their crystal ball

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Should Hilton Head Island to stay the same? Do we want fewer or more visitors? Will the island to become an under-40, tech-driven paradise by 2040?

Since the days of Charles Fraser, long-term planning is one of the things that has made Hilton Head stand out — not only within Beaufort County, but around the country. Now, led by the efforts of Mayor David Bennett, the town is once again spearheading a comprehensive listening tour. The process asks residents, business leaders, local institutions and other community stakeholders on what the future of the island should look like.

 

Called “Hilton Head Island: Our Future,” this information-and-opinion-gathering effort wraps up in early 2018. To get area residents’ perspective, town officials hired consulting company Future IQ to develop a 19-question online survey. The town also is hosting a series of community workshops running through September at locations across the island.

 

Town officials will analyze survey results and input from the workshops to create an action plan, which they say will build on past long-term planning efforts. These past efforts include Vision 2025 and HHI Vision 2030. A similar visioning project was undertaken in 2009.

Critics of the process have said that the town is overloaded with “vision” at the moment and should implement all the recommendations of past exercises before paying a consultant $7,000 to create a new visioning process.

Bennett has said that his personal vision for the island includes providing sewer service and paved roads for the entire island; unclog traffic around Sea Pines Circle and promote heritage tourism. The values that underlie these goals echo in the “Our Future” survey questions.

The survey asks respondents to rate the importance and urgency of topics affecting Hilton Head, including:

  • Aging populations.
  • A shortage of workforce and skills.
  • Loss of younger adult generations from the island.
  • Health and wellness.
  • Workforce housing and transportation.
  • Tearing down and rebuilding traditional neighborhoods.
  • Traffic congestion.
  • Status as a world-class resort destination.
  • Recreation offerings.
  • Changing long-term weather conditions and patterns.
  • Protection of ecosystems and environmental sustainability.

Respondents also are asked to rate the importance of offering post-secondary and technical education opportunities on the island, and to weigh in on the trend of less brick and mortar retail and more online shopping.

A workshop was held June 27 at The Beach House, a Holiday Inn Resort, on the island’s south end. About 150 community leaders and residents spent the day brainstorming. About 70 percent of participants were between the ages of 51 and 70, and 17 percent of attendees had moved to the island within the past five years.

Many were surprised by the group’s view of tourism. While many locals complain that Hilton Head has become overrun by its 2.6 million annual visitors, 37 percent of the workshop participants felt that having 3 million tourists by 2040 is optimal. Only 19 percent felt that fewer visitors would be ideal.

And it isn’t just visitors: Participants didn’t want a lot of new full-time residents, either. The island’s population has grown from 24,000 in 1990 to 39,000 today, and overall, 26 percent of workshop attendees thought 45,000 is island’s sweet spot, while 22 percent thought that the number of residents should stay about the same through 2040.

The group also discussed the town’s past visioning efforts. A majority of the workshop participants felt poor progress had been made on creating a local economy not dependent on the hospitality industry — a goal of the 2014 strategic plan.

Participants had fun coming up with hypotheticals for the future. Some of their ideas included: converting a golf course into a community farm and park; a successful zero-waste landfill; a town-owned solar field; a sold-out, town-owned tech incubator; and a major demographic shift to residents younger than 50 and communitywide public transportation. A wind farm, integrated transit system, and energy independence by 2040 were other ideas tossed around, while some participants imagined a bridge expansion by 2020.

There is still plenty of time to weigh in on what you think the island’s future should be. The town wants to hear from you.

Weigh in

Take the Town of Hilton Head Island’s “Our Future” community survey at www.research.net/r/HiltonHeadIslandOurFuture.

See future workshop dates and locations at lab.future-iq.com/hhiourfuture.