Bird observation platform to finally land in Shelter Cove with new apartments

By Zach Murdock
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Hilton Head Island birders will soon get the feather in their cap they've been waiting for at Shelter Cove Towne Centre.

A new bird observation platform will be built sometime next year. It's part of a bigger plan to build 240 new luxury apartments along Shelter Cove Lane that earned final approval Wednesday by Town Council.

The gazebo-sized platform will overlook the lagoon at the north end of the center's community park, next to the site of one of two yet-to-be-built apartment buildings. The observation platform is one of the concessions developer Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial made last year to appease public concerns about the development, said Robert Rommel, vice president of the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society.

Rommel and other birders worried that Shelter Cove Towne Centre would intrude on a lagoon along the Broad Creek that's a popular spot for more than 200 birds, including egrets, ibises and wood storks.

"We wanted to be really careful around there because it's what we call a roosting site," Rommel said. "It's not a place where the birds go to feed or do all their normal activity, but toward the end of the day, when they're looking for a place to rest and spend the night, right around an hour or so before sunset, you could see hundreds of birds there."

To maintain the habitat, Blanchard & Calhoun agreed last year to maintain existing vegetation and plant more foliage around the lagoon to protect the roosting space, said John Lee, senior vice president with the company. The new observation platform will be set back from the lagoon's edge to keep visitors from walking its banks and potentially disrupting the birds' area, he added.

The Audubon Society also will provide several educational signs discussing the types of birds that use the lagoon and could also include a video feed of a particular roost in the area, Rommel said.

"We're definitely pleased with how cooperative (Blanchard & Calhoun) have been with it," Rommel said. "The final report card, I guess, will be when fall season picks up, and that's when most of the birds will start to use it. Whether or not we see the same numbers (of birds) return remains to be seen."

"There's also been a lot of activity in the Kroger area," he said. "It's great that more and more people get to see the birds, but then we just have to be a little careful about traffic."

Construction of the platform has been delayed this year by changes to the apartment plan crafted by Hilton Head Mayor David Bennett and agreed to by Blanchard & Calhoun planners.

The platform had been part of the original agreement to build a 210-unit luxury apartment building at the corner of Shelter Cove Lane at the lagoon, with another 30 units on the south side of the new community park along Broad Creek at the center.

But just a few weeks after being sworn in as mayor last year, Bennett asked Blanchard & Calhoun president Mark Senn to reconsider the approved five-story apartment building because of concerns it would be too massive for the center and obstruct views of the creek.

Senn agreed, and the pair worked out a plan to split the apartments into two smaller buildings on either side of Veterans Memorial Park. Under the new design, both buildings will be four stories tall -- the east one near the lagoon with 130 to 140 units, and the other with 100 to 110, Senn said. Each also would have its own parking, according to the plans.

Although last year's plan drew the ire of some island residents, the revisions were unanimously endorsed by Town Council on Wednesday without any comment from residents.

Town Council will vote once more on the plans in September. Formal site plans and architectural renderings will go to the Design Review Board for approval this fall.

Pending those approvals, Blanchard & Calhoun hopes to begin construction on the first building nearest the lagoon and the observation platform before the end of the year, Lee said. The second building on the north side of Veterans Memorial Park would follow in a second phase, he added.

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