Tim Keane's Dec. 31 column in The Post and Courier gives us insight into the city's thinking in its plans for the "gathering place" on Maybank Highway. He addresses three issues with the impending development, namely the large size and scope of the development, the loss of trees, and the increased traffic. While Mr. Keane offers valid ideas for development, I would like to remember the heart of the issue as a nearby resident: the loss of an unrecoverable ecosystem adjacent to Maybank Highway once it is cut and developed.
In addition to the loss of trees, development of the total acreage will result in the destruction of habitats, nests, flora, animals and birds that inhabit this land. Beyond increasing traffic and the risk of overdevelopment, this project will dramatically shift, and likely destroy, a part of the ecology of James Island.
It's true no one likes to see development in their own back yard, myself included. The Maybank Forest abuts the back of the Cross Creek Lake where I watch egrets and herons, turtles and bass frolic lazy days away in our neighborhood's 5-acre pond.
I have a personal interest in the location of this development and as a newcomer to the City of Charleston and James Island, I recognize I am also responsible for the city requiring additional resources.
I realize that change is coming. That said, developers and the city must be bound to ethical codes of a sustainable future. Our elected officials should be planning "seven generations" ahead before cutting down trees or paving over our natural resources for private developments.
Is the city really listening and working to secure what we, as residents, really want on James Island? A bookstore, assisted living, community gardens, a food co-op, shared usable green spaces, bike lanes,and improved bus service have all been mentioned by the community.
Where are the DOT plans for new bike lanes on Maybank Highway to connect these apartment dwellers to the peninsula? That may be a challenge since bicyclists are no longer welcome on the James Island Connector.
Is there a plan from CARTA for improved bus routes connecting "gathering places" on James Island to downtown?
For all the talk about the "walkable" community this development has inspired, what I see is a six-story parking garage for luxury apartments. I fear that the "gathering place" as a solution for urban development may be an example of corporate and government "greenwashing": a plan with an environmentally friendly message but with very little infrastructure to deliver the promise.
The protected trees safeguarded at the back of the development maintain some tree canopy, and I'm grateful for protecting any existing green areas on the property, but overall I am concerned that this development falls far short of meeting community needs and progressive environmental stewardship.
Furthermore, the City of Charleston has argued that the influx of new developments and increased populations to James and Johns Islands creates a situation that warrants highway expansion through Charleston's sea islands.
It feels like an endless circle of expansion, development, and growth, but at what cost?
The cutting of the Maybank Forest began last week to prepare the site for the first part of its development: a 4.7-acre luxury apartment complex called The Standard.
It may be too late to stop this development, but it's not too late for the other 17 acres. Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray, Town of James Island and the Greenbelt Fund - want a park with your name on it? Step right up to this commercial property that abuts a lovely lake!
Barring an ideal but unlikely land-conservation solution, I urge our elected officials and communities to not simply plan for 2030 and the 100,000-plus new city residents expected, but to envision a sustainable future that puts environmental and community needs first.
Our land will never return to forest. The Lowcountry will be forever altered, and there is no going back. We must challenge ourselves to ensure the new "gathering place" developments are truly sustainable and community-oriented - are they great enough to warrant replacing the existing forest?
Cathryn Davis Zommer is a documentary filmmaker working on a feature film about Black Mountain College called "Fully Awake." She also is a marketing and communications consultant, and resides on James Island. Join the conversation on Facebook: Honor Maybank Forest.
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