About 200 people got together at Summerville High School on Thursday to talk about the future of Watson Hill. Judging by our account of the meeting, most were plenty happy with what has transpired on behalf of the property in recent weeks.
The 6,600-acre tract was purchased by MeadWestvaco which has jettisoned the previous developer's plans for an inappropriate resort and residential project. Instead, the company will develop the tract along the lines set out by Dorchester County for its historic district along Ashley River Road.
The preservation of the state's most historic road corridor was strongly supported by many who attended Thursday's meeting. They agreed that the two-lane tree-lined highway shouldn't be congested with traffic. Some endorsed the idea of extending the Glenn McConnell Parkway from Charleston parallel to Ashley River Road to alleviate pressure.
That idea might gain traction as MeadWestvaco's larger East Edisto tract is developed in Dorchester County. But in the short term, the only way that Ashley River Road can maintain its rural character and historic ambiance is to restrict development — a goal that restrictive zoning in the historic district seeks to accomplish.
There was some suggestion on Thursday that Watson Hill's name should be changed, in view of all the controversy surrounding it. We disagree. The name Watson Hill should remain as a reminder of the long and strenuous effort to prevent its overdevelopment. It should be a reminder of how easily the region's heritage can be threatened, and how difficult it can be for the public successfully to oppose those threats.
The public campaign on behalf of Watson Hill is an example of what can be accomplished by perseverance. In this instance, opposition to Watson Hill led to planning protections and encouraged other conservation efforts along Ashley River Road.
But those efforts were almost undone by the willingness of a single jurisdiction — North Charleston — to accommodate plans for the tract after its annexation.
Watson Hill underscores the importance of regional planning and the continuing threat to it. It says that state annexation laws should be strengthened to encourage regional solutions to historic preservation, land conservation and traffic control.