East Edisto meets with public approval
Bit by bit, meeting by meeting, the plans for East Edisto have been pulled apart and put back together and are now approaching finality.
Dorchester County Council gave second reading Monday to the development agreement with MeadWestvaco that will govern how the massive tract of land is developed.
Several people spoke in favor of the plan, which covers 72,000 acres across two counties. Seventy-five percent of the land will remain rural, with deed restrictions into perpetuity, and the earliest development will occur in Dorchester County, near the existing Legend Oaks subdivision.
The county will hold another public hearing at its Dec. 3 meeting in St. George.
MeadWestvaco has been planning the development for years. It held a series of community meetings and came back with a master plan based on the input in 2009.
Then started the behind the scenes work of crafting the legal agreement that will serve as the foundation for the vision.
In an interview Friday, Kenneth Seeger, vice president and president of community development and land management at MWV, said a few things have changed since the original.
People who attended the meetings back then might remember the proposed map included a series of small, rural communities dotting the landscape in a north-to-south line.
Those communities won’t happen, Seeger said, because the market can’t support them and it would cost too much to extend infrastructure.
However, the plan for Summers Corner, near Summerville, remains. The 7,000 acres near 17-A will be the initial focus.
The idea is a community where people can work, live and play. There’s already an industrial park on the opposite side of 17-A, which currently houses MWV’s Arborgen, and there are plans for a 1,000-acre business campus adjacent to that.
The residential areas would include 7,500 homes and a mix of retail and service businesses.
“It’s compact. It’s not littered all over the countryside,” Seeger said.
MWV will donate seven school sites, as well as the money to actually build two elementary schools.
“That’s unheard of. I don’t know of any private developer in South Carolina that’s ever done that,” Seeger said.
The company will also donate up to four sites for EMS and fire stations and will help the people of Clubhouse with a recreation center.
It also includes plans for walking and biking as alternative modes of transportation, and in fact the road from Summers Corner to Clubhouse already has bike lanes.
Building out this community will take 15 to 20 years, depending on the market.
At the public hearing, Dekle Griffith, who lives in Legend Oaks, said MWV’s planning process has been “thoughtful and inclusive.”
It’s “just the kind of approach we need for that area,” he said.
An illustration of just how much thought goes into the planning process is across I-26 at MWV’s offices.
There, staff have constructed a town of tiny model homes and community centers so they can experiment with different design principles and see how they play out.
The model is for a development on yet another tract of land MWV owns and is developing, between the interstate and Cane Bay.
And while the style is a little different – more reminiscent of downtown Charleston architecture – the thought process is much the same.
The planners play with varying the setbacks of homes ever so slightly, so the houses don’t line up like barracks. Garages are accessible via alleys, so that garage doors aren’t the dominant image from the street.
There are focal points at the ends of streets, and paths for biking and walking.
Seeger said the company will work with builders to come up with unique home plans, rather than re-using plans already built in the Lowcountry.
And while the ideas behind the developments are similar to those used at I’On or on Daniel Island, the prices will be Summerville prices, meant for average families to enjoy.
At the public hearing, William Baughman said he’s lived and worked in Dorchester County for more than 50 years.
“I’ve watched us expand with unchecked, unplanned and frequently unwise development,” he said.
Now the county has the opportunity to work with a single landowner to plan growth in compliance with the comprehensive master plan and maintain the rural character of much of the land, he said.
Mike Soyka said in his 12 years living here, it’s become obvious the area is always trying to catch up to growth.
“For a change we appear to be breaking ahead of the curve,” he said.
He hoped East Edisto would be a model for other developments.