Seeking the best Cainhoy plan

  • Posted: Friday, January 17, 2014 12:01 a.m.

It appears that community concerns about the planned development of Cainhoy Plantation won’t be immediately resolved. The proposal is continuing on its fast-track time line without the full benefit of conservationists, historians, preservationists, neighbors and planners who have offered their help.

That’s a pity.

Between 150 and 200 people turned out last week for a discussion about the plan. Many voiced serious misgivings and asked the developers for more time to make their case.

Matt Sloan, who represents the developers, descendants of the late businessman Harry Frank Guggenheim, says the master plan will proceed to the Charleston Planning Commission as planned on Jan. 29.

That time line leaves little opportunity for further collaboration — something the Guggenheim group has seen can be valuable.

For example, when SCE&G approached them about purchasing land for transmission lines along Clements Ferry Road, they came back with a deal: They would give them the necessary land in exchange for SCE&G agreeing to bury the lines. But it took months of negotiating and planning.

Another example: Residents of nearby Jack Primus neighborhood were concerned that the high-end development almost in their backyards would be far beyond their means.

So the Guggenheim group plan is to zone a portion of the Cainhoy property near Jack Primus for starter homes. Someone who couldn’t buy a Daniel Island-like house might be able to purchase a lot and a mobile home, save some money and eventually build a permanent house.

Collaboration, when it happens, can be beneficial to all involved.

Mr. Sloan has met with many people interested in the history, culture, environment and planning of the tract. But he indicates some aspects of the master plan are not negotiable.

The 9,000-acre parcel will be developed. It will feature two neighborhoods that are described as “fishing villages,” commercial and light industrial sites, offices, apartments, school sites, parks and lots of houses.

The Guggenheim group can proceed with all this because the city’s zoning of this property is as lax as could be. Besides, the developers believe the plan is unquestionably wonderful, just as they believe Daniel Island, at one time also owned by the Guggenheims, was the best plan for that property.

But who can say that this is the best plan without sustained discussions about the land uses, density, historical and cultural assets of the property, trees and wildlife?

Local preservation experts believe some sites yet to be identified would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. They fear that they could be destroyed in the process.

Mr. Sloan’s team includes people skilled in archaeology, conservation and planning. But one expert’s findings can be different from another’s. Additional insights can only help.

Fortunately, as the master plan, and later specific elements of it, are scrutinized in the pursuit of environmental permits, there will be occasions for more public input.

The property, long used by the Guggenheims for hunting and entertaining guests, is extraordinarily beautiful.

It stretches from the Cooper River to the Wando. It fronts on 31 miles of marsh and is marbled with freshwater wetlands. It has old stands of longleaf pines, which have all but disappeared from many parts of the South. It is just across the road from the Francis Marion National Forest and very near a swath of properties under conservation easements.

Certainly the reason the Guggenheim interests think the property is marketable is because of its natural assets and the area around it.

So when conservationists and preservationists say there are better ways to use Cainhoy Plantation, developers would be wise to take the extra time to listen to them carefully.

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