Size and quick pace of development biggest concerns about Cainhoy Plantation

Residents, conservationists and others with a stake in the proposed Cainhoy Plantation worry about size of the 9,000-acre development, and how quickly it appears to be moving forward, Charleston city officials say.

Next steps

JAN. 29: The Charleston Planning Commission is set to review the proposed planned unit development at 5 p.m. at 75 Calhoun St.

WINTER-SPRING: Charleston City Council is expected to consider the proposed zoning.

2014-15: Once zoning is approved, developers would submit more specific plans for subdividing the first phases of the 9,087-acre site.

About 200 people attended a public meeting at Cainhoy Elementary/Middle school Thursday to hear a presentation sponsored by the city on the latest plans for the development that many residents have described as "massive." Officials also summarized public input they gathered Wednesday at "charrettes," or stakeholders' meetings.

Tim Keane, the city's director of planning, preservation and sustainability, said the size and the pace of development were the largest concerns among people who attended those meetings.

Today, Cainhoy Plantation consists mostly of forests of loblolly and longleaf pines, but in a few decades it will be a Lowcountry suburb larger than Daniel Island or Charleston's peninsula.

The property, owned by descendents of the late businessman Harry Frank Guggenheim, essentially has no zoning at the moment, only a cap of 2.1 homes per acre, but its owners, their consultants and the city of Charleston are starting to consider what it should look like.

Claudia and Deborah Moore, who live near the proposed development, said they are concerned about the traffic the development will bring, and how the roads could become less safe. And they simply wanted to learn about what was planned for the area.

But Keane said the development really isn't as large as it seems at first glance, because 4,000-4,500 acres, or nearly half of it, is wetlands.

And it's important to remember, Keane said, that the land is going to be developed, so it's important to think about how it will be developed. "This is a place where there will be development," he said. "This is going to be suburban."

And the area isn't going to be developed as quickly as people fear, Keane said. It will developed in phases.

Now, about 11,400 people live on Daniel Island, Thomas Island and the Cainhoy peninsula, he said. That population is expected to grow to about 40,000 between 2050 and 2060. That's roughly the population of James Island, he said.

Detailed plans for the development will unfold over time, he said. "We're not making every decision on this property right now," Keane said. "This is going to go on for decades."

Matthew Sloan, a representative for the Guggenheim family's corporate interests, said "the principles that drove the design of Daniel Island will be the same as the principles that drive the design here." The neighborhoods will be walkable and homes will have close proximity to parks.

The Berkeley County School Board already has approved a new high school in the development on the south side of Clements Ferry Road, Sloan said. The school is expected to open in 2017.

Developers first plan to build some residential neighborhoods near the school in the next 5 to 7 years, he said.

Charleston City Council has the final say over the proposed zoning, and its Planning Commission is scheduled to review the plan Jan. 29.

The planned development calls for two fishing villages, one each near the Wando and Cooper rivers, commercial sites, offices and apartments along Clements Ferry Road, a light industrial zone along Cainhoy Road, two or more school sites, parks and other residential development. Tens of thousands of residents could call it home.

Robert Gurley, director of advocacy for the Preservation Society of Charleston, said the meeting didn't calm his fears. He still thinks the development is massive and that it's moving too fast. "We don't think this has been adequately discussed," he said. "We don't understand why it has to be done now."

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.

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