Land sale may change community forever

Surrounded by Mount Pleasant subdivisions, Snowden has retained much of its rural character. Snowden Road runs through the freedmen’s community, where Olive Branch AME Church’s plan to sell a 20-acre tract of land could lead to development.

MOUNT PLEASANT — A historic freedmen’s community that has resisted the onslaught of suburban growth faces a new development threat from a seemingly unlikely source, a church that’s selling one of Snowden’s largest undeveloped tracts.

Olive Branch AME Church has listed the more than 20 acres of woods and fields for $6 million. A developer, Lennar Coastal, already has inquired with Mount Pleasant Waterworks about water and sewer line connections.

“It’s a developer’s dream!” says the Carolina One real estate listing for the property.

Joe Palmer, a member of the Snowden Community Civic Association board, said community leaders are still gathering information but lots of people there are upset.

“This is very big,” he said. “We have tolerated development around the community, but not within the community.”

For the church, the sale could be a windfall. Olive Branch AME bought the land 16 years ago for $400,000, according to county records.

For residents of Snowden in unincorporated Charleston County, developing the land could change the character of the semi-rural black community created after the Civil War. Snowden was surrounded by farms until the 1970s but is now bordered by some of the town’s largest subdivisions.

“Our ancestors labored hard to purchase and maintain the lands we call Snowden,” the civic association says in an online description of the community. “We believe we must work just as hard to maintain the integrity of the community for ourselves and for future generations.”

The large Mount Pleasant subdivisions near or abutting Snowden — Snee Farm, Longpoint and Belle Hall Plantation — have multiple homes per acre, while Snowden averages more than 1 acre per home. There are an estimated 300 homes on roughly 400 acres, according to the Snowden Community Civic Association, and “everyone is related.”

Stephan Platt, whose mother’s family is from Snowden, started an online petition protesting the church’s sale of the property that gathered 427 signatures and comments by Tuesday. Platt said he created the petition out of concern for friends and family in the community.

“I believe strongly that the proposed sale of the Olive Branch AME property located in the Mount Pleasant Snowden community to one of the country’s largest developers will result in gentrification of the Snowden Community,” said former Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall, who signed the petition.

Lennar Coastal declined to discuss the potential development, said Sebastian Hale of public relations firm Rawle Murdy.

Repeated efforts to reach Olive Branch AME’s pastor, the Rev. Richard Harkness, were unsuccessful. AME 7th District Elder Rev. Dr. Juenarrl Keith also did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The Olive Branch AME Church is located on U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant near Mathis Ferry Road. Some petition-signers said the church bought the Snowden property for a new church home or an expansion plan that was never realized.

If the 20-acre property is sold for development, here’s what would likely happen next:

“What’s typical with residential development is that they would be annexed into the town,” said Mount Pleasant Director of Planning and Development Christiane Farrell. “That area would have a community conservation land use recommendation, which is 3 homes per acre.”

To get connected to Mount Pleasant Waterworks’ water and sewer lines, developers must seek annexation if a property touches the town limits.

The 20-acre property in Snowden does touch properties that are in the town, and Mount Pleasant Waterworks already has received an inquiry about the availability of water and sewer.

About a third of Snowden — more than 100 homes — doesn’t have sewer lines and relies instead on septic systems. Failing septic systems that overflow when it rains, polluting Foster Creek and the Wando River, have been a long-standing problem.

“The one thing I’m concerned about is getting sewer,” said Dorothy Brown, a retiree who lives on Snowden Road near the property that’s up for sale. “I don’t care who comes, as long as I get my sewer.”

Mount Pleasant Waterworks General Manager Clay Duffie said the utility is working on plans to extend sewer lines to 28 Snowden homes that are in the town of Mount Pleasant, but it has no funding to address the more than 70 homes outside the town limits. He said extending sewer lines to a development could make it easier to connect nearby homes, but there’s still the question of sewer-connection fees, which some in Snowden can’t afford.

Charleston County Councilman Herb Sass said public sewer has been an issue for years, with funding being the main problem. Parts of Snowden were connected to the sewer system in 2008, a multimillion dollar project funded by Mount Pleasant Waterworks and a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant.

Sass, a real estate appraiser, said he was unaware of the potential sale and development of Olive Branch AME’s land, and was stunned by the asking price. If 60 homes were permitted on the property, as town zoning could allow, the $6 million asking price would amount to $100,000 per building lot, just for the unimproved land.

“There’s no cheap land over in Mount Pleasant,” he said. “That’s part of the problem with things like (creating) workforce housing.”

“That’s going to really change that neighborhood,” Sass said of the potential development.

The church property is not the only large piece of Snowden land offered for sale. Nearby, a 9.6-acre property that runs from Evelina Street to the marsh at Foster Creek is listed for sale at $2 million. The owner, CKB LLC, bought the land at the end of 2013 for $200,000, according to county records.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.