By Evan Thompson, Elizabeth Hagood, Dana Beach, John Hildreth & Katharine Robinson
This Wednesday, the City of Charleston's Planning Commission will vote on whether to approve a Master Plan for the development of the 9,000-acre Cainhoy Plantation.
This plan, as proposed, will have profound and permanent impacts on the city and the region. This plan will permit the construction of over 18,000 new residential units and attract millions of dollars of unpredictable commercial and industrial development in an area of the Lowcountry with irreplaceable historic, environmental and cultural value.
Because of an ill-conceived 1996 annexation and development agreement that provided for overly permissive zoning, the public has almost no voice in the approval process for this Master Plan. This amended process is unprecedented, and the developers will have almost unlimited discretion to make decisions about the future of the property.
The Planning Commission's scope of review is limited to "comment and review of the relationship of the proposed uses to roads, buffers and adjacent properties . [and] shall not have the right to restrict the use or density of the property as a result of such review." It's all or nothing.
The proposed Master Plan fails to provide sufficient information to enable the Planning Commission to undertake even this very limited review.
The plan shows only the most generalized of uses, including industrial areas adjacent to the Francis Marion National Forest along Cainhoy Road. The road plan itself consists of a handful of thick dotted lines across a map of a 9,000-acre tract laced with wetlands that includes seven new traffic lights along Clements Ferry and Cainhoy roads.
The traffic study amounts to a four-page outline that cites outdated traffic statistics and provides no projections of traffic impacts from the development. Additionally, the Cainhoy Master Plan does not meet its stated objective to "establish guiding principles and goals to guide the protection of the properties' natural and historic resources."
If this Master Plan is approved, we will lose forever the opportunity to develop a more sensitive vision for more responsible development with stronger protection for the original, old-growth longleaf pine forests, archaeologically sensitive Native American and colonial settlement sites and historic roadways and structures on Cainhoy Plantation.
Traffic and development pressures will threaten the character and rural context of adjacent areas including the Jack Primus community, the Cainhoy Village National Register Historic District, the Cooper River National Historic District and the Francis Marion National Forest.
Proponents argue that approval of the 9,000-acre Master Plan is necessary to allow the Berkeley County School District to move forward with a proposed high school on the south side of Clements Ferry Road.
While we would dispute that point generally, the development agreement expressly allows for the 9,000-acre tract to be planned in two sections: north and south.
The planning process should begin where the developer has consistently stated that development will first occur, on the south side of Clements Ferry Road, and should therefore not create any economic hardship.
Millions of dollars have already been poured into the conservation and preservation of the Cooper River/Francis Marion corridor from federal, state, corporate and individual sources.
A slower, more deliberate planning process will allow all stakeholders to have a meaningful opportunity to understand and contribute to the plan for Cainhoy Plantation and what will ultimately be the single largest development in Charleston's history.
Evan Thompson is executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston. Elizabeth Hagood is executive director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust. Dana Beach is executive director of the Coastal Conservation League. John Hildreth is regional vice president for Eastern Field Services for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Katharine S. Robinson is president & CEO of Historic Charleston Foundation.