Today, the 9,087 acres known as Cainhoy Plantation are mostly forests of loblolly and longleaf pines, but in a few decades this land may 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.
And some residents fear that this process of plotting what would be the largest planned development in the city's history is moving too fast.
Several dozen residents, conservationists and other interested parties dropped by the Keith School Museum on Wednesday to review and comment on the latest plans. Another public presentation is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Cainhoy Elementary School.
Mackie Hill, a historian who owns property nearby, said the development will give rise to more than a dozen major issues - from historic preservation to wildlife to water quality - each of which has its own set of interest groups.
"It's just massive, massive, massive," he said.
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.
Susan Petinga, who has seen Clements Ferry Road traffic become congested since she moved to River Reach Point in 1999, said her biggest concern is how her driving time will be affected.
"The roads are already horrific enough as it is," she said.
Charleston City Council has the final say over the proposed zoning, and its Planning Commission is scheduled to review the plan Jan. 29.
Cainhoy resident MaeRe Skinner said that's moving too fast.
"I'd like them to slow down and give more residents time to get involved with getting all the information," she said.
Her concern was echoed by the Historic Charleston Foundation, which put out an alert Wednesday saying, "Alarmingly, the master plan approval process is now moving so quickly that many have not had a chance to have their voices heard."
Consultants have pinpointed seven sites on the former plantation, including cemeteries, houses and a former brickyard, that could be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and three other sites that need additional research work. Hill and Skinner said there likely are more.
Others questioned the wisdom of having a light industrial zone across Cainhoy Road from the Francis Marion National Forest.
Tim Keane, the city's Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, said the property had no zoning before Charleston annexed it in 1995, and its current zoning only prohibits adult bookstores, junkyards and heavy industry.
Part of Wednesday's charrette focused on what Clements Ferry Road should look like once it's widened, and Keane said the city needs to be more active in pushing for the widening between Jack Primus Road and Cainhoy village. "The design of this stretch of road right here will affect people's lives more than anything," he said.
A traffic scheme presented Wednesday showed the development eventually could lead to five new traffic signals on Clements Ferry Road and two more on Cainhoy Road.
The development contains a site for a future Berkeley County high school, but Paula Wells said she doesn't see why the entire planned development must be approved before the school project can get started.
Tish Lynn with the Center for Heirs' Property Preservation said while the parcels within the development site apparently do not contain any family lands, she said its development could complicate matters for low-income families nearby.
"It will of course affect all the owners along the perimeter in terms of taxation," she said.
To put the property's size in perspective, landscape architect Scott Parker noted that it stretches between the Cooper and Wando rivers and has 31 linear miles of frontage on salt marsh and about 75 miles fronting on freshwater wetlands.
"This is a decades-long development, but what we're really talking about today is a more specific zoning that sets out some parameters," Keane said. "What is being proposed is not a big conservation area. What is being proposed is a suburban neighborhood. Right now we're focused on making this as good a suburban area as we possibly can."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.