Paving the way for progress?

If there is any drive around here that's more annoying to old-timers than Highway 17, it has to be Folly Road.

From Windermere to the beach, it's just about non-stop suburban sprawl - fast-food joints, convenience stores and strip malls. And traffic at a crawl.

Just before you get to Folly Beach, however, there is a little respite. Around Battery Island Drive, you can still catch a glimpse of how it used to be. Old homes - modest houses with big, shady yards - line the road. It's like a window into James Island's past.

Better take a long look at it on your way to the beach this weekend because it's probably not going to last.

Last week Charleston County Council narrowly voted to rezone a mile-long stretch of Folly between Rafael Lane and Battery Island Drive for "neighborhood commercial zoning." This will allow some business to sprout up along the route - hotels, medical businesses and the like.

It may not happen tomorrow, or next week, or next year even. But it's coming.

Some call this "progress."

Joe Qualey calls it a sin.

Zoning out

Qualey represents the island on county council, and on Jim Isle town council before that.

Back in those days, Qualey used to describe the little town as the parts of the island that hadn't been "messed up" by rampant commercialization.

He fought against the neighborhood commercial zoning, along with dozens of people who actually live on that stretch of the road. The area is home to a lot of black families, and they wanted the zoning to get more restrictive, not less. They want a "neighborhood preservation overlay" to prevent just this sort of thing from happening.

But council said no.

"We've always said we want to preserve the character of the island, and of specific neighborhoods, and now we do this?" Qualey says. "It goes against everything the black community - and the white community - has asked us to do on James Island."

He's right. And it's a shame.

People are similarly upset in Mount Pleasant. A crowd recently turned out to protest a new office building with a parking garage that's going up near Shem Creek.

It's the same, but different. Here the developer already has his zoning, and town officials asked him to add the garage.

Seems a lot of people want to visit Shem Creek, which is true. It's one of the great things about Mount Pleasant. It's so popular there's not enough parking.

So if you don't like this proposed parking garage, don't blame the developer. Blame the town, blame tourism.

Blame progress.

Remember when?

Fact is, Coleman Boulevard is a lot like Folly Road.

It's just about commercial from one end to the other. And in truth, the planned office/garage complex is attractive, more so than a lot of what's been allowed to sprout up around there.

This is just what happens when you live in an area so unique, so beautiful. People visit, decide they want to live here. The Census proves it.

When they come, the building starts. The traffic gets unbearable. And the place starts to look a whole lot different. Little by little, we start to lose all those things that were once part of the fabric of a truly unique community.

These days, most people think of Shem Creek as that little stretch of water surrounded by restaurants, where you can still see a couple of shrimp boats. How quaint. Many people probably don't realize the creek used to be lined with trawlers, not bars.

Just like a lot of people probably won't notice a few more businesses along Folly Road. Once the change starts, it all happens so fast that only the old-timers remember the way things used to be.

They are left to lament a quieter time when there wasn't a drug store on every corner, when people actually had yards with shade, yards bigger than your average stamp.

And when they reminisce about the good ol' days, new residents will look around, and see very little evidence of that bucolic past. Some of them, the ones who aren't in a hurry to get back out in traffic, will ask what happened.

And they will be told that it's progress.



Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com

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