Monday, January 14, 2013
In its last major vote of the year, Dorchester County Council unanimously approved MeadWestvaco’s plan for its East Edisto development.
The development agreement covers 38,700 acres and is expected to take 50 years to be fully developed.
MeadWestvaco and county staff, however, must consult annually to see whether the plan is on track.
Council came close to postponing the vote, with Councilmen David Chinnis and Jay Byars in particular expressing “minor” concerns about transportation infrastructure.
The councilmen, both of whom said they’d like to live in East Edisto one day, worried whether the roads leading to East Edisto would be adequate.
They said they don’t want future councils dealing with the equivalent to the county’s current situation with S.C. 165, in which the county had to beg and scrounge before it found the money to widen the road in front of Ashley Ridge High School.
“I don’t want to be looking down on them calling me names at that point,” Chinnis said.
MeadWestvaco attorney Neil Robinson of Nexsen Pruet said the development agreement includes the concept of “concurrency” – the necessary infrastructure must be in place as each phase is completed, or the development can’t proceed.
Attorney George Bullwinkel said MeadWestvaco will update traffic studies every five years or 2,500 certificates of occupancy, and for each “settlement” within the Summers Corner development.
Summers Corner is about 7,000 acres between U.S. 17-A and S.C. 165 that will be the first focus of development.
Within that development will be residential, commercial and industrial areas.
Most of the East Edisto property, however, will remain forever rural. The development agreement is attached to the land, not the owner, Bullwinkel said, so even if MeadWestvaco were to sell the entire tract, the rules of the development agreement would remain in place.
At the first public hearing last month in Summerville, several people got up to praise MeadWestvaco’s thoroughness and commitment to public input.
At Monday’s meeting, however, a contingent got up to question whether the plans were linked to “Agenda 21,” which some theorists see as a United Nations plot to eradicate private property rights and force people to live in cities.
“Agenda 21” is a non-binding, voluntary agreement signed by President George H.W. Bush that encourages sustainable development.
Debbie Brownfield got applause from the audience when she said the U.N. shouldn’t have more control over what happens in the U.S. than U.S. citizens.
Opponents said words like “sustainable” and “smart growth” raised red flags.
In typically blunt fashion, Chinnis told the opponents it was ludicrous to compare the development agreement to anything other than what it is – a request made by the property owner to develop its land.
“You believe in property rights? … This is the property owner’s request of us,” he said.
“This is smart development. Sorry, guys. It’s just smart. It’s smart like your kids are smart, not Agenda 21,” Chinnis said.
It’s smart because it won’t adversely affect other areas of the county, he said.
Angie Crum of Ridgeville, a regular presence at council meetings, spoke after the opponents and said she applauded MeadWestvaco for sitting down with residents of the rural areas, discussing their plans and answering questions throughout the long planning process.
“It wasn’t a hidden agenda,” she said.
Robinson stressed the agreement is more like a marriage than a property closing. Approving the agreement binds the two parties to work together over the next 50 years, he said.