James Is. development plan draws fire Woodland Shores neighbors fear traffic, drainage issues, reduced property values

Woodland Shores resident Chris Lawings said that traffic through the James Island neighborhood is already at a critical point. He worries about the impact of a new development, Riverland Oaks, planned nearby.

Nate West and his Woodland Shores Road neighbors worry about losing the rural feel of their James Island homes because of the Riverland Oaks development planned nearby.

Signs at either end of the mile-long, driveway-dotted road urge residents to “Save Our Neighborhood.” An online petition, “Preserve James Island,” was started by a Woodland Shores resident and now has about 500 signatures, supporters said.

West, 35, an oceanographer, said that he loves his Woodland Shores residence where he has a backyard garden and chickens. Across the street, Army veteran Chris Lawings, 62, talked about the hummingbirds that visit annually from South America. The green birds could be seen darting from a front-yard tree to a feeder on the porch of the home where he has lived for 24 years.

Lawings said that he uses a radar gun to clock speeders on Woodland Shores Road where traffic thickens because of people taking a shortcut between Maybank Highway and Riverland Drive. The road needs sidewalks, and drainage ditches tend to have standing water, he said.

“Walking on the road is dangerous,” Lawings said.

Both West and Lawings said they fear Riverland Oaks will add to Woodland Shores’ traffic problems and reduce property values. The development is planned on a 28-acre strip between Woodland Shores Road and Stefan Drive. Thick woods, muddy grasslands and tall power poles now stand on the development site.

Initial plans showed an entrance to Riverland Oaks from Pawpaw Street off Woodland Shores Road. After hearing neighborhood concerns, designers went back to the drawing board to create a new access to the development from Maybank Highway.

But project opponents want other changes, as well.

“What we would like to see is single-family homes that match the rest of the neighborhoods on Stefan Drive and Woodland Shores,” West said.

A mix of 55 homes and 60 townhouses is planned for Riverland Oaks. The proposed housing density is well within the current zoning requirements, officials said.

Christopher Morgan, director of the city of Charleston Planning and Sustainability Division, said Woodland Shores residents have been vocal about the project. Primary concerns expressed to the city include increased traffic and drainage problems, he said.

“It’s one of those classic scenarios where there’s woods in folks’ backyards and they think there’s always going to be woods. But unless a public entity or a land trust or something buys those woods or gets a conservation easement on those woods, they are probably going to be at some point developed and that’s the case here,” Morgan said.

“We’ve committed to working with the developer to make sure that things like the access points are in the best locations possible to have the least impacts to the surrounding neighbors. We’ve relayed that to the development team,” Morgan said.

Jason Esposito, Eastwood Homes division president, said the density of Riverland Oaks will be 30 percent less than could be built on the property under current zoning.

The Riverland Oaks property owner is listed at the South Carolina Secretary of State website as Venn James Island LLC, described as a North Carolina corporation with managers in Burlington and Winston-Salem. No further information is provided on the website.

Some 95 percent of traffic from the new subdivision would likely use the Maybank Highway entrance now being designed.

Drainage in Woodland Shores should improve with the construction of Riverland Oaks, officials said.

Developers will not fill wetlands or remove grand trees.

The project may include a pedestrian and bike path connecting Riverland Drive and Maybank Highway, but no decision has been made on that option, officials said.

Lawings and West live about halfway down Woodland Shores Road at Pawpaw Street. Lawings said he has trouble getting out of his driveway. There is no way the road can handle more traffic, he said.

Congestion on two-lane, driveway-lined Woodland Shores Road increased 85 percent between 1997 and 2012 to an average annual daily traffic count of 2,500 vehicles, according to the Riverland Drive Corridor Management Study released last fall by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments.

“The Riverland Drive/Woodland Shores Road intersection is confusing during off-peak traffic volumes and becomes dangerous during periods of high traffic volume,” the study says.

“Reasons for this include the awkward, non-intuitive traffic flow at the intersection, the propensity of commuters to use Woodland Shores Road east of Riverland Drive as a convenient ‘cut-through’ between Maybank Highway and Riverland Drive, and the high-density land-development pattern that flanks Woodland Shores Road west of Riverland Drive,” the report says.

Preservationists see the Riverland Oaks project as another example of too much development on the island. They protested The Standard Apartment Homes, a 280-unit apartment complex and a six-level parking garage nearing completion on Maybank Highway.

The Preserve James Island website says the tract of land that would be used for Riverland Oaks has small wetlands and a multitude of plant and animal species. “If/when these small wetlands are filled for development, it will create issues with drainage and area flooding ... not to mention the negative impacts on water quality,” the website says.

It calls on supporters to sign a petition that says the density of the development should be reduced by allowing only single-family homes and not apartments and townhomes.

On July 15, a request for Riverland Oaks subdivision concept-plan approval was deferred at a meeting of the Charleston Planning Commission. The city Technical Review Committee is evaluating the project, officials said. No date for the Planning Commission to reconsider Riverland Oaks has been set.