A different voice has joined the often strident conversation about the planned development of Cainhoy Plantation - the calm, measured voice of Fr. Stan Gumula.
Father Stan doesn't have a preconceived notion of what should or shouldn't happen on the 9,000-acre site just down the river from Mepkin Abbey where he serves as abbot. He has entered the dialogue hoping to help participants find reconciliation.
Indeed, in a Feb. 2 column published in The Post and Courier he said, "Cainhoy deserves a plan that accurately reflects its historical, cultural and ecological sensitivity as well as allowing smart development. Further, we believe we can arrive at a plan for Cainhoy that benefits all parties."
Fr. Stan is working to put together a forum of people intimately connected to Cainhoy Plantation. He has one rule: no finger-pointing. People will be asked to speak - and listen - to each other with respect. If this were proposed in Washington, the idea would draw guffaws. But in this case, people will be invited to gather in the quiet safety of Mepkin Abbey.
In the end, Fr. Stan doesn't expect all participants to be 100 percent in agreement. But he does expect everyone will feel that he has been heard. And because of that, he is hopeful that the changes that occur - and there will be changes, he says - will be equally respectful.
The abbot has been in touch with Peter Lawson-Johnston Jr., a member of the Guggenheim family, which owns the property. They have not met yet, but Fr. Stan believes Mr. Lawson-Johnston will be eager to be part of the forum. His presence would be vital.
Others will represent the developer, the city of Charleston, Berkeley County, longtime neighbors of the site, Daniel Island, conservation groups, preservation organizatinos and industry.
The more people look at the issue as part of a broader view, the more insightful they will be. And, Fr. Stan believes, the more successful Cainhoy Plantation's design will be.
The forum will not likely take place before summer. It is very probable that work will have begun on the southern end of the property where a Berkeley County High School is to be built.
But the more sensitive northern end is not close to construction. So fortunately Fr. Stan can take the time he needs to plan the forum carefully and ensure that all the players are present.
The monks of Mepkin Abbey were involved in a previous Cooper River forum that "changed people's minds and attitudes" about each other and what was best for the area, Fr. Stan says.
This area has a chance that many other areas don't. Here are 9,000 pristine acres of land and surrounding communities that are historically, environmentally and culturally valuable. Such opportunities are rare and deserve the most careful, thoughtful and sensitive treatment possible.
It makes sense that conversations about future development should also be careful, thoughtful and sensitive.
That is what Fr. Stan hopes that Mepkin Abbey can bring to the table - a simple act of being a good neighbor.
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