Long Savannah on track
A plan to annex 1,253 acres of rural land in far West Ashley, for a subdivision that could include thousands of homes, sailed through Charleston City Council with little discussion and even less public comment Tuesday night.
The Long Savannah development won't be a done deal until council votes on final approval, perhaps in March, but the initial decision set the stage for a week of public meetings on the design of one of the largest new communities ever planned in Charleston.
The annexation vote came more than five hours after the council meeting began, right on the heels of a two-hour debate about a zoning decision involving a bank branch on Rutledge Avenue. By the time Long Savannah came up, around 10 p.m., most of the audience had left and elected officials asked few questions about the city's largest annexation since Daniel Island.
"This is a very important decision, and we're making it in a fraction of the time spent on an issue on Rutledge Avenue," said Councilman Henry Fishburne, who voted against the plan.
Supporters said the annexation of the Long Savannah property is a rare opportunity for Charleston, because the development is directly connected to plans for 1,800 acres of new city and county parks, a developer-funded extension of the Glenn McConnell Parkway, and other incentives such as money and land for schools and public facilities.
The developers previously reached a deal with the community of Red Top, which initially opposed the plan over concerns that Bear Swamp Road would be turned into a four-lane highway to Long Savannah. The developers promised to not widen the road, and to provide financial assistance to the rural community.
"This is a once-in-forever opportunity," said Mayor Joe Riley. The new parks that come with the Long Savannah plan would create an impenetrable buffer, he said, marking the end of suburban growth in West Ashley.
In comments echoed by a representative of the Coastal Conservation League, Riley said that if the city did not annex the land, a developer could build about 1,600 homes under the current county zoning and give nothing in return.
The property controlled by developers comprises more than 3,000 acres, but that includes the 1,800 acres slated to become new city and county parks.
The park purchases already have been approved, and would use $9.3 million from half-percent sales tax funds for green space. Those deals are contingent upon the development plans moving forward.
Opponents said the annexation flies in the face of Riley's frequent talk about regional planning and cooperation. The land is currently outside the city limits in Charleston County, located on the "rural" side of the urban growth boundary line in West Ashley that, until now, has been recognized by the city and county.
"I think we're going against smart growth principles, and against working with other governments," Fishburne said.
Riley responded that the plan is beyond smart growth, "it's brilliant growth."
City Councilman James Lewis said the large development could make it more likely that the number of council districts where black voters are in the majority will be reduced, the next time district lines are redrawn to account for population changes.
"Right now we have five African-American City Council members," Lewis said. "After the next redistricting, we will probably have four, and if these annexations continue, we could have two or three."
Fishburne, Lewis and Councilman Robert Mitchell voted against the annexation, and against moving the city's urban growth boundary. Both passed 9-3, with Councilman Wendell Gilliard abstaining. Mitchell said he's concerned that there's no set limit on how many homes could be built at Long Savannah.
Riley said the number of housing units in the mixed-use development would be determined over the next several months, and particularly during a week-long series of public workshops.
The workshops start with a kick-off presentation at 6 p.m. Friday, at the old Kincaid Furniture store, 1821 Sam Ritten- berg Blvd. Subsequent workshops start at 9 a.m., and a wrap-up presentation is scheduled at 6 p.m. Dec. 6.