1985-2016: Hilton Head, then and now

Every so often, it is important that we reflect on where we have come from in order to find a path forward.

In this time of planning the future of our island home, we must preserve what is best and set a course for our future. So with this anniversary issue of Hilton Head Monthly, I thought I would examine some of the facts about how Hilton Head Island has changed during the life of this magazine.

THEN AND NOW2In 1985, the Town of Hilton Head Island was just 2 years old and the “new” four-lane bridge coming onto the island was bringing 500,000 visitors and 17,000 full-time residents back and forth to the mainland.

Interestingly enough, it was also in 1985 that Hilton Head Island Town Council enacted the first Comprehensive Plan. I might mention that in 1985, Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes, Port Royal Plantation, Shipyard Plantation, Wexford Plantation, Hilton Head Plantation and Long Cove had already been developed. Since then, the Comprehensive Plan has been amended or updated five times.

Today, Hilton Head is approaching full development and boasts a full-time population of 40,000 and nearly 2 million visitors per year. It certainly has changed over the past 31 years.

For the moment, I want to return to the subject of Hilton Head’s Comprehensive Plan. As someone who earned a master’s degree in city planning, I — like many of our readers — must take some comfort in the fact that we have a Comprehensive Plan. This would be proof positive that we, as a community, have a vision of where we are going and actually even have a plan in place to get us there. Certainly, with a Comprehensive Plan and a municipal planning department that is rumored to rival the size of Atlanta’s planning department, we are in great hands and our future is secure.

 So let’s start by defining what a Comprehensive Plan is. Wikipedia, the source of all useful information, says it is “a process that determines community goals and aspirations in terms of community development.” The Comprehensive Planning process starts by identifying issues, stating goals, collecting data and completing a plan. Additionally, as in any good urban planning process, it calls out implementation plans, evaluates alternatives and then sets about implementing and monitoring.

While a community’s Comprehensive Plan should be required reading prior to making a home purchase, I think it’s safe to say that not many Hilton Head residents even know where to find a copy of the plan. The goal of Hilton Head’s Comprehensive Plan is fairly straight-forward and states: “The town’s desire is to retain its reputation as a quality residential-resort area. …” Special emphasis is placed on a sustainable economy, protection of our cultural and natural resources and the efficient delivery of public services.

Well, as an interested observer with at least some knowledge of urban planning, I’d say our town leadership and planning staff have done a reasonably good job for the past 31 years.

Hilton Head Island has a global reputation as a first-class place to both live and play. Folks come here with their families to work and raise their children, as well as to retire. Nearly 2 million visitors a year come from all over the world to enjoy our resort facilities. Each of us have a vision of what our community should be, but through the Comprehensive Planning process we come together and jointly declare our goals and values to each other and all that may come and join us.

I’d say Hilton Head Island was wonderful when I first come here in 1973 — there were only three small hotels and a two-lane road down the middle of the island. It was bigger and fancier by 1985, when Hilton Head Monthly was first published, and the tradition continues today in 2016. We are quick to jump on our problems and call out our elected leaders, but we are the lucky ones.

Elihu Spencer is a local amateur economist with a long business history in global finance. His life work has been centered on understanding credit cycles and their impact on local economies. The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources considered reliable but the accuracy cannot be guaranteed.