Gordon Haist, chair of the board and moderator, opened by saying, “We ordinarily think of ethics as a set of principles determining right from wrong. But there are many right and wrong ways of acting, and most of them are non-moral rather than immoral. Carefree behavior is not wrong. Careless behavior sometimes is.”
He added, “It can be right for a county to grow from an economical point of view and yet not ethically right from a social or environmental point of view.”
Gordon introduced Narendra Sharma, a former economist with the World Bank and founder and director of the Neighborhood Outreach Center, a local organization assisting low-income area residents, and Tim Wood , a semi-retired carpenter and former member of the City of Beaufort’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
The first presenter, Tim Wood, described the first 20 years in Beaufort for him and his family as “secure and happy” with Beaufort’s slow growth and then lamented the faster pace that evolved as Sun City Hilton Head, Dataw Island, both Parris Island and the Marine Corps Air Station and growing numbers of movie productions contributed to northern Beaufort County’s “discovery.”
The county has grown from a population of 54,000 in 1974 to a population in 2020 approaching 200,000, for an average of about 3,000 people a year. “With Hilton Head Island anticipating a new six-lane bridge and the Beaufort area looking more and more like Mount Pleasant (which has experienced explosive growth), I have to wonder if there is a consensus of concern about overdevelopment.”
Reluctantly, he said, he has accepted that Hilton Head and Bluffton are already overdeveloped, and that Ridgeland and Hardeeville are being “gobbled up.” He very much would like to see a referendum among the residents of northern Beaufort County (from Dale to Fripp Island) to judge points of view on growth.
He would recommend capping annual residential growth at .75 percent; a one-year moratorium on condominium development and an end to development of large residential neighborhoods. “”We should concentrate on infill and open land purchases,” he said.
What is happening, he said, is that the blue-collar population is being pushed out as society concentrates on those with wealth, and the people who produce the wealth are finding that they can no longer afford to live in the area.
He made the case that true majority rule is the best system for a society. “If my fellow citizens want unabated growth, so be it. If my fellow Beaufortonians want controlled smart growth, then let’s work on establishing those limitations. Isn’t it time to vote on it?”
Gordon Haist then interjected that capping growth is essentially violating property rights, also that only a small percentage of the eligible population votes in most elections. Having a referendum to determine how people can use their property would present a moral dilemma, he said.
Tim responded, “I can’t do anything about those who don’t vote. Local government can buy land to help control growth but can’t buy enough to stop 20,000 people from moving here.”
A member of the audience pointed out that current infrastructure, including the power companies, do not have the capacity to support the people coming in.
Tim added that “another Harbour Town” is about to grow up in the little town of Port Royal and that Jasper County residents are “not prepared to handle the influx they are asking for and are about to get.”
Narendra Sharma’s presentation focused a lot on the increase in inequality of income and assets among populations as communities grow. And growth in productivity is necessary, he said, because of the certain growth in population.
“World wealth of $33 trillion in 2000 grew to $96 trillion in 2021,” he said, but most of that wealth is concentrated in the richest countries. Seven countries (the G7) have $42 trillion of that while the rest of the world has $54 trillion.”
Bringing the statistics closer to home, he said the median income in Hilton Head Island is $86,000, Beaufort County is $41,000, and South Carolina $30,700. The most important question, he said, is how do we create opportunity for people falling behind?
To serve the three million visitors annually and the Hilton Head residents, 19,000 workers cross the bridges to work daily. “Tomorrow they will work in Bluffton and Hardeeville,” he said. “Income here is rising slowly while rent is rising rapidly.” In 2017, he said, thoughtful recommendations came out to increase affordable housing, raise the income of workers and improve transportation for commuters, but nothing has been done.
“We have a moral obligation to promote equitable and sustainable development while protecting the environment,” he said, adding, “That requires a clear vision, political will, a consensus, long-term commitment and an involvement of all stakeholders.
Gordon asked whether there is any example in the country of a community that has managed sustainable development, basically growth without destruction of natural resources and in keeping with available infrastructure. Narendra answered that the forces of capitalism and the free market had prevented such success. “It’s clear that everywhere we need to grow smarter,” he said.
Our thanks to our speakers, Tim Wood and Narendra Sharma for their excellent presentations, to Dr. Gordon Haist for his very informative and consistent Moderating and to our Audience for their active participation. Ongoing thanks to Betsy Doughtie and Tech expert Joe for Zooming our meeting and to Fran Bollin for her always outstanding summaries.