Luther Strayer looks toward Skull Creek from the future site of a proposed sailing and rowing center off Squire Pope Road on Hilton Head Island. Strayer is a member of the Carolina Sailing Center and Palmetto Rowing Club and is a coach of the Hilton Head Island Crew.(Photo: /Staff photo)
Plans for the proposed rowing and sailing center on Hilton Head Island's Squire Pope Road include a 1,400 square foot picnic pavillion, fenced boat storage, a floating dock and restrooms.
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Conceptual designs for a sailing and rowing center on Hilton Head Island have won unanimous support from a town board, but members of local boating clubs say the plans need improvement.
The center off Squire Pope Road would feature a pier with a floating dock on Skull Creek for fishing, crabbing and launching boats; a 1,400-square-foot picnic pavilion; fenced boat storage; and restrooms, according to plans approved Tuesday by the town's Design Review Board.
Some boating enthusiasts said the plans do not include a convenient launching space for kayaks and small sailboats.
Dumping sand along one side of the dock would make the launch site easier to use for owners of small vessels, according to Luther Strayer, member of the Carolina Sailing Center and Palmetto Rowing Club and coach of Hilton Head Island Crew.
However, that would mean dumping sand on top of a mud flat, and launching sailboats and kayaks from such a spot might kill the marsh grass on the shoreline, according to Kirby Marshall, project manager with Applied Technology Management.
That company collaborated with Wood and Partners, and Lee & Parker Architects on the design. The firms considered adding such a beach access, but when the plans were shown to the state Ocean & Coastal Resource Management office for permitting, "we were told, not only 'no,' but 'heck no,' " said Kyle Theodore of Wood and Partners.
Project architect Tom Parker Jr., who sits on the review board but abstained from voting, agreed.
The beach launch "was absolutely a non-starter (with OCRM), but to logical minds looking at it, it seems really easy to do and something that we should get consideration for."
Review board member Todd Theodore, who works for Wood and Partners, also abstained from voting.
Planners will proceed with permitting without including the beach access, Parker said.
"We can work without it, but it'll be better with the sand," Strayer said. "Otherwise, I just can't wait to use it. We are just out of space where we are."
The Palmetto Rowing Club currently stores and launches its boats along Broad Creek, near the Old Oyster Factory restaurant on Marshland Road, Strayer said. He said the site is cramped, and the creek is too shallow to row during low tide.
The new location could attract collegiate rowing teams from northern states for spring-break trips and spur interest in crew programs at local high schools and the University of South Carolina Beaufort, Strayer said.
The center also won approval from the town's Parks and Recreation Commission in March and from the Planning Commission in September. The review board is expected to look at the project's detailed final plans next month.
If permitting advances as anticipated, construction could begin in early fall, town public projects director Scott Liggett said.
The center's construction, estimated to cost $760,000, would be funded by the town's tax increment financing revenue, Liggett said.
The Island Recreation Center would manage the center with help from rowing and sailing clubs and coaches. The rec center is considering developing programs -- including kayaking, youth sailing and adventure camps -- at the new park, according to its executive director, Frank Soule.
Any new costs to the rec center would be covered by program fees, Soule said.
The town would contribute $67,000 a year for operation and maintenance costs, Liggett said.