It is taking a long time ó five and a half years so far ó to launch East Edisto, a large mixed-use development that will straddle Dorchester and Charleston counties along Hwy. 17 South.

Itís a little like waiting for Christmas: It feels as if it might never come, but itís worth the wait. With Dorchester County Councilís recent approval of the first reading of a development agreement with MeadWestvaco, construction could begin in 18-24 months, after federal permitting is secured. Development of the portion of the land in Charleston County is a year or two behind that timetable.

Kenneth T. Seeger, president of MWV community development and land management, says the development will demonstrate that preserving the character and natural resources of a place is not just good for the environment, but good for business. And that would be good for the Lowcountry.

Early on in the extensive planning process, beginning with 22 public meetings, including conservationists, a vision for MeadWestvacoís 72,000 acres emerged. It would preserve natural resources, community heritage and rural character; be part of the regionís growth management solution; contribute to the regionís economic well-being; create diverse and balanced housing options; enhance life-long learning opportunities; and develop sustainable communities.

Mr. Seeger tells us the project is still adhering to those principles.

Indeed, 75 percent of the land MeadWestvaco owns will never be built upon. The plan respects Dorchesterís comprehensive plan, and in some instances makes zoning more restrictive than it is now.

Planners have worked closely with Dorchester County (and are working with Charleston County also) to come up with a plan for managing growth and making sure the development contributes to the regionís well-being.

For example, plans include MeadWestvaco building infrastructure and providing land for six schools (and money to build two of them near Summerville in an area of the development called Summers Corner).

The nature of the development encourages people to walk and do business in East Edisto, thereby removing strain from existing Dorchester County roads and services.

Mr. Seeger says studies indicate East Edisto will provide the county with more revenue than it costs, and it will also provide 7,500 new jobs over time.

The Lowcountry has seen the ill effects of sprawl and poorly planned developments. They tax the schools and roads, snarl traffic and diminish the beauty of the area. They compromise the very things that make the Lowcountry appealing to residents and to new business and industry.

MeadWestvaco has been meticulous, reasoned and cooperative in its approach to developing East Edisto. The planís initial approval by Dorchester County Council is a welcome sign that those efforts will pay off.