East Edisto gets belabored nod from Dorchester County
SUMMERVILLE — The future of nearly one-third of Dorchester County now has the stakes laid, after two years of hammering back and forth.
If you go
A meeting to get community input on East Edisto development in Charleston County will be held Wednesday in Ravenel.
The development would comprise 30,000 acres in the southwestern part of the county. Company officials plan to present an overview, an opportunity to ask questions and to make comments. The company has submitted a development agreement application to the county. This is separate from the Dorchester County agreement.
The meeting is 6:30-8:30 p.m., Ravenel Community Hall, 5700 Conner St. For more information, contact the county zoning and planning department at 202-7240.
County Council has approved a preliminary vote on the development agreement for MeadWestvaco’s massive East Edisto project.
The project would build a web of “green” communities across 70,000 acres in the southern county outside Summerville.
Council members say there’s more work to do before that broad of an agreement would pass a final vote.
In just one example of how ticklish and occasionally testy the negotiations have been so far. The $7.5 million aquatic center approved by voters earlier this month for Dorchester District 2 schools and the Summerville YMCA was proposed to be built in East Edisto as part of the original development agreement MeadWestvaco brought to county officials two years ago, among a number of other fine touches to the project.
County officials bristled at paying for specific infrastructure — like a pool — in a development. Company officials called that a misunderstanding. And the back and forth began.
Who pays for what infrastructure is still a chief sticking point, mostly concerning roads.
The East Edisto project would cover most of southern Dorchester County below the Ashley River.
The agreement is essentially a PUD, a planned unit development. In a PUD, a county and the developer draw up a contract for zoning rules, timetables and provisions for public services. PUDs generally are made for large-tract developments to allow the tracts to be planned as a whole community, rather than a series of individually zoned properties.
For both the county and MeadWestvaco, the difference with East Edisto was simply the span; it’s not a community but a web of communities.
The company’s master plan is as broad and expansive as the property itself — mile after mile of woodlands and farms leading to environmentally sensitive community “corners,” villages and towns ringed with lakes and parks, even “green” commerce parks.
It is the largest real estate development the packaging giant has ever undertaken, creating and conserving a region so diverse that a design consultant called the project unprecedented.
Its first phase alone, the Summers Corner mixed-use development, would cover 6,000 acres near the intersection of S.C. Highway 61 and U.S. Highway 17A.
One Dorchester County official said he was intimidated by the size and scope of the first development agreement proposal.
The company also is negotiating with Charleston County for a smaller portion of the project in that county.
Most of what’s laid out in the Dorchester County agreement is a pretty standard development contract: The company builds roads and other infrastructure within specific developments; the county agrees to connect to them.
But there’s a lot more at stake. Schools must be built. Police and fire service provided. In particular for council members, improvements must be made to existing roads as traffic demands from the development increase — improvements they could be on the hook for.
“There’s going to be a need to expand and do some additional roads out there. I think everybody realizes that. That pencil needs to be sharpened a little more,” said Councilman Jay Byars, adding that larger funding sources must be looked at.
“Roads are one of several long-term infrastructure concerns (council) has to come to an agreement on before we can give it a final reading (vote),” said Councilman Bill Hearn.
Councilman Willie Davis dug in his heels at earlier versions of the agreement until he was assured that the county’s commitment to East Edisto wouldn’t take away from infrastructure needs, such as sewer, in the upper county he represents.
“We didn’t know what their (MeadWestvaco’s) end was going to be. We had to make sure other people’s needs were addressed, too,” Davis said. “We’re getting there.”
“We were at first trying to do more things we thought could potentially have benefits,” said Ken Seeger, MeadWestvaco president of development and land management. “But they made it too complex. There were early misunderstandings.” The effort over the past two years has been “not so much changing the deal but simplifying the agreement itself,” he said.
The aquatic center was included in the proposal because it already was part of the county’s long-range comprehensive plan, and the company offered to donate a location for it, Seeger said. It has been removed from the agreement.
MeadWestvaco agrees to pay impact fees for roads and water and sewer, as well as build infrastructure in the projects, Seeger said.
The company also provides land for six schools and money to build two of them in Summers Corner, he said.
“We’ve always said East Edisto would pay its own way. That was true in the beginning and it’s true now,” Seeger said.
The Summers Corner development is not likely to begin for two years, as the company works through the agreement and permitting. But if the paperwork were in place, “Yes, I think the market is such that we would start cautiously” right now, Seeger said.
As for the aquatic center, the two primary locations being looked at now are the Pine Trace county park property and the YMCA’s Oakbrook tract in Summerville, YMCA and schools district officials said.
East Edisto “is really not in the mix right now,” said Pat Raynor, district spokeswoman, speaking for Superintendent Joe Pye.
“I’m comfortable with (the agreement) right now. MeadWestvaco has been a good corporate partner,” said Councilman Byars. “They’re going to protect themselves through a long-term effort. Whatever we do, all of us (on council) want to make sure we protect the county. That’s first.”