Level 7

Level 7


A little known part of this island’s history to visitors and residents alike when viewing this community, so brightly punctuated by the lighthouse, is that Charles Fraser’s vision for community building reverberated throughout the world. The idea that one could preserve the essential character of the land by developing it was entirely new to the cost-conscious development community.

Fraser’s “Highest and Best Use” concept required large tracts of protected land, or “open space.” True, this land might have provided room for more houses or condominiums, but the essential character of the land would have been lost. “Highest and Best Use” meant finding ways to allow people to enjoy the natural beauty special to Hilton Head Island.

Fraser established the concept of an architectural review board comprised of professional architects and planners as well as residents. This board still convenes regularly to review house plans for new residences and has the power to adjust and even reject designs that would harm the neighborhoods they are planned for. At first controversial, review boards are now a part of community planning nationwide.

By building golf courses, Fraser attracted players and buyers, but he also opened up air corridors to feed fresh air into the dense maritime forests. Sea Pines became a mecca for golf and tennis facilities. The first condominium laws in South Carolina were drafted for the Beach Lagoon Villas, the earliest attached housing in the state.


Fraser’s dream grew into a community that is nationally televised each year, one that attracts over two million visitors annually while retaining the privacy and exclusivity that is unique to Sea Pines. And, of course, with fame comes property appreciation. The ocean front lot that might have sold for $12,000 in 1957 would easily top $2 million today. Sea Pines set the tone for all of Hilton Head Island and hundreds of other community developments the world over. Sea Pines Plantation is, in fact, the only community to win the Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence twice in the same decade.

The crowning achievement of his planning and design expertise is often thought to be Harbour Town itself. As he saw it, he had a vision of an intimate Harbour Village with Lowcountry ambiance seasoned with the influence of the small distinctive harbors along the coast of southern France and Italy. He took his top design team to Europe and flew over dozens of small, enclosed harbors, taking the best features of them all and created a Southern version of Portofino, Italy. Harbour Town thus became a combination of shops, restaurants, and harborage beautifully accented by the candy striped lighthouse. From the top of the lighthouse, you can see a masterpiece of design and a community within a community, human in scale and delightful to the senses.

Sea Pines Plantation’s design is remarkably subtle. It is actually a series of distinct neighborhoods co-existing comfortably together. Areas of modest homes blend in with areas of condominiums and attached housing. These, in turn, are located adjacent to areas of larger lots and more substantial residences, which blend in with pockets of signature homes. In nearly every neighborhood, residences face views of ponds, wooded acreage, golf course vistas, sea marsh, or ocean front. The community combines shopping, dining, recreation, schools, a hotel, private clubs, picnic areas, historic sites, and large natural areas that are alternately vibrant with activity or quietly at peace, but always pristine and elegant. The community’s ability to preserve the best of its natural beauty within the preserve is something that should be not be missed.

This is not an accident. It is all the result of a plan that evolved from the simple principle of reverence for the natural resources of the land and a knowledge that human beings do not have to destroy a place in which they live. Little details such as minimal night lighting, informal street structure, shared access to the beach, significant tree preservation, and subtle color palettes for homes create a visual harmony that sets the standard for resort/residential development around the world. The simple and basic idea of placing living areas of a home on the side with the best view changed the way entire communities have been designed since the 1950s. Charles Fraser and his remarkably youthful team of planners and project managers can take a lion’s share of the credit for the revolutionary planning that Sea Pines Plantation initiated. The Calibogue