These are tough times for folks who want to keep Johns Island rural.

Last week, Charleston City Council gave the green light to a nearly 500-home development at Plow Ground and River roads. Meanwhile, County Council is mulling over public assistance for a 1,200-home development on the south end of the island.

And plans are underway to extend Interstate 526 onto the island, which some fear will be the road that delivers thousands more homesteaders.

Frankly, all this is disheartening to people who want to keep a glorious island from becoming just another lousy suburb.

But still they fight on.

They were at County Council Thursday, silently protesting the Beach Co.'s proposal for Kiawah River Plantation by wearing “No TIF” stickers and sitting silently in the audience.

It was a good showing, but they may be fighting a battle in a war that's already over.

Ship has sailed?

Johns Island defender Robin Welch was one of the leaders of Nix 526, which didn't turn out so well.

She has kept up the anti-growth fight and has seen some success. But the euphoria of winning the battle against the Plow Ground Road development at Charleston Planning Commission dissipated when City Council reversed the decision.

“Developers only have to win once, but we have to win again and again,” Welch says. “It's exhausting.”

Yes, it is.

County Councilman Vic Rawl, one of about 30 owners of the property the city OK'd for development, says he sympathizes, but contends these people are laboring under false pretenses. The island's fate was sealed years ago.

“That ship sailed a long time ago,” Rawl says. “It sailed when Kiawah and Seabrook were developed. And it sailed when the city annexed onto the island. … Cities don't annex to not develop land.”

He's right about that. Rawl says he supports smart growth and green growth, but not “no growth.”

Mayor Joe Riley says as much. He contends the Planning Commission has good folks who got caught up in the emotion of the opponents, and just because the land is outside the urban growth boundary doesn't mean there should be no growth there.

The city, he noted, got the planned development reduced from 1,200 houses to 462. That is the optimistic take on this, but it's little comfort to the anti-growth crowd.

No more 'maters

There's a chance County Council will kill Kiawah River Plantation's proposed tax increment finance district.

If they do, the Beach Co. could still build a subdivision there — it's their property, and it's a free country. Maybe they will build cheaper houses, and more of them. One thing's for sure, the land won't sit empty.

Bottom line, the struggle to save Johns Island is never going to end — good people like Welch will see to that. They will fight until the last tomato farm is paved over.

This may go down as the year the island irreparably turned into a suburb. But if Charleston loses its last real slice of rural Lowcountry heaven, it won't be because no one cared.

Reach Brian Hicks at