JAKE GARTNER Making his mark on town design


“I’m a competitive person,” Jake Gartner said. “I try to be the best I can be, whether it’s family life, being a builder, coach or the chairman of a board — I want to be the best they’ve ever had. Excellence drives me in my personal life and my professional life.”

Gartner is putting that drive and passion for excellence to work for his community as chairman of the Town of Hilton Head Island’s Design Review Board.

Aside from his work on the board, Gartner owns Hammerhead Builders, winner of several LightHouse Awards and “Builder of the Year” as voted by Hilton Head Monthly readers. His wife, Kim, teaches science at Hilton Head Island Middle School. They have two active kids: 14-year-old Haleigh, who loves acting, singing and volleyball; and 12-year-old Payce, who loves sports, especially soccer and baseball. Last year, Gartner coached the Hilton Head Hurricanes, the town’s travel baseball team. 

JAKE GARTNERHis goal as chairman of the Design Review Board is to protect the unique character of the island.

“I get stressed out if I’m not doing a really good job,” Garner said. “I try to stay true to the design guidelines for buildings and landscaping like Shelter Cove, Sea Turtle Marketplace and what you’re going to see at Coligny. There’s a human element on the path to building large shopping areas, but there’s a dictum: follow the town design guidelines. The DRB looks at everything from the roof to the façade and the landscape to make sure the building project is in keeping with island character as defined in the Town of Hilton Head Island Design Guide.”

Gartner’s board involvement grew out of his association with HHI 25, a group of individuals under the age of 40 running successful businesses on the island. Lee Edwards, former town councilman and president and CEO of The Greenery, created the group to get a younger perspective on town matters.

“The town’s important to me because my kids will grow up here and my business will be here forever,” Gartner said. “I have a love for the town and a responsibility to it.”

The board reviews every new building project along the island’s main roads — William Hilton Parkway, Pope Avenue, Palmetto Bay Road, etc. — the beachfront and the resort zoning district. This includes deep into Sea Pines, where the board reviewed and approved the redesign of the Sea Pines Resort clubhouse and beach club.

“We check everything from the soffit and fascia to how many and what size magnolia trees are needed. We look at benches, trashcans, walkways, and service yards… it’s a lot,” he said. “We have talented architects, landscape architects and attorneys on the board. Everyone is on point to maintain the island’s character through the town’s design review guidelines.”

Though he and the rest of the board are doing their best to honor the spirit of Hilton Head, Gartner recognizes that its decisions aren’t always popular.

“We get beat up sometimes. With Shelter Cove, public opinion told us that we didn’t do a good enough job retaining trees. We’ve also had folks who get steamed who say, ‘I really just want to open a business.’ I get it, but they have to get it to the point that it looks right,” he said. “The Design Review Board is here to review projects and make sure they fit into the design character of Hilton Head. We’re called to protect, and sometimes that doesn’t jibe.”

While there are a lot of projects on the horizon, there’s one that isn’t: Gartner said he hasn’t seen any plans to renovate Northridge, which some residents have been calling for.

“It’s so great to see plans come through, but Northridge isn’t on the docket,” he said. “We’ve reviewed two new hotels that are replacing the old hotel by Verizon on the south end. The hotels wanted to use the same branding and structures as always. We said that isn’t happening. But there were compromises.”

And it isn’t just businesses: The Design Review Board also makes sure parks and other public structures fit within the island’s aesthetic.

“We just approved the new park, playground, little amphitheater and museum for Coligny. We haven’t gotten to the other side of the street yet but, that’s coming,” Gartner said. “The Coligny Plaza Shopping Center will be renovated, too.”

The review board looks at exterior design but also references the interior design to make decisions about things like where to put a window.

“You can’t put a window in a kitchen, but you may have to put up a false window or some cool shutters to keep within a Lowcountry design,” he said.

Architects with Court Atkins Group designed the new Sea Turtle Marketplace, going up by the Starbucks on the island’s north end.

“It’s not going to be a walk-around mall — the marketplace is going to have some drama, some differentiation and aesthetics,” Gartner said. “As far as I know, the Starbucks isn’t going to be redesigned. A potential anchor grocery store is Lidl.”

Lidl is a 40-year-old German grocery store chain with more than 10,000 stores in 27 countries. Its tagline is “Highest Quality Products. Lowest Possible Price.”  

“Lidl grocery stores have a very, very contemporary look – sloping roofs with walls of windows – which in no way fits our design criteria. We’ve been back and forth with them. We want them to come. We understand the importance of having a good anchor grocery store. This is a terrific grocery that would be a great addition to the island,” Gartner said. “It has been a challenge but we’re pursuing it and they’re pursuing it.”

Each month this column profiles Lowcountry citizens who offer fresh insights, renewed hope and a deeper sense of connection to our community.