Berkeley boom Planned communities take shape amid improving economy

A rebounding economy has spurred a revival of planned communities in Berkeley County, including Carnes Crossroads.

The inaugural homes are taking shape and the first sales staff recently was added to the Carnes Crossroads planned community in Goose Creek.

Not far away, MeadWestvaco Corp. recently broke ground on the first office building and announced apartments in Nexton, the packaging giant’s 4,500-acre master-planned community in Summerville.

The two developments, recently awakened from a recession-induced slumber, are among a growing wave of residential and commercial growth in this corner of Berkeley County.

Local officials are lauding the growth in the Summerville-Goose Creek corridor as a long-term play that’s benefiting from the area’s proximity to major highways and employment growth stoked by Boeing Co. and other businesses.

“This is about location, location and location,” said Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis. “We’re close to the interstate and other developments.”

Davis added that the area will grow even more after infrastructure improvements are completed, including the construction of Sheep Island Parkway from Summerville to U.S. Highway 17A just south of Moncks Corner. The parkway would run through Nexton to Cane Bay Plantation, another big mixed-use development.

Johnny Bevon, a commercial real estate broker with Avison Young, recently gave an update on the area last month. He quipped that it was pretty much the same presentation he gave five years ago.

“Then the wheels fell off,” he said.

But now developers are dusting off plans that will swell the population in the area by tens of thousands in the next several decades, reflecting the improving economy and pent-up demand for housing.

Bevon said that the combined number of residents living in Cane Bay, Nexton and Carnes Crossroad, if fully built out, will be “bigger than Mount Pleasant today.”

In Berkeley County, 2,299 homes exchanged hands last year, 75 more than 2011 and the highest volume of home sales for the county since 2,339 in 2008, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

Sales of new homes rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 437,000, the U.S. Commerce Department reported last week. That’s the highest level since July 2008.

Higher sales are keeping the supply of new homes low, even as builders have tried to keep up. At the current pace, it would take only 4.1 months to exhaust the supply of new homes for sale. That’s the lowest such figure in nearly eight years, experts say.

“Builders are not putting up homes fast enough to meet underlying demand,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight.

In Berkeley County, there are hints of growing demand since Cane Bay, a planned community formed in the midst of the housing downturn. Builders there sold 214 homes in 2012, up from 174 the previous year.

Buyers such as Charlie Swain, pastor at The Church at Cane Bay, were drawn to Cane Bay by its affordability and proximity to growth in the area. Swain, 30, purchased his home in the Old Rice Retreat neighborhood more than two years ago.

“The vast major of people I’ve met here are not originally from the South,” he said. “They’re from other regions, and they’re coming for Boeing and other jobs in the area.”

The area’s renewed growth, and heightened competition, is illustrated on Main Street. The busy roadway leads to the entrance for Nexton, and a few miles from billboards touting Carnes Crossroads and newly constructed Lennar homes in Cane Bay.

Still, developers remain cautious and are taking a staggered approach to their construction pipelines. That’s an about-face to some massive tracts witnessed popping up before the housing meltdown and eventually left unfinished or vacant.

Developers are also billing the Berkeley County area as the next epicenter for the region’s growth, a label taking shape while other Lowcountry hotbeds, such as Mount Pleasant, are topping out on available space for such large-scale projects.

Carnes Crossroads was unveiled in 2006 as a mixed-use development on a 2,300-acre site at highways 176 and 17A in Goose Creek. The project slowed during the recession, stalling plans for builders and businesses such as grocer Harris Teeter, the planned anchor for The Market at Crossroads’ retail hub.

The past 18 months showed some increased optimism for the local market and reignited development plans, particularly on the residential side, said Matt Sloan, president of The Daniel Island Co., the developer of Carnes Crossroads.

“Years ago it was not the right time, so we decided to ride out the housing cycle,” Sloan said. “Our company aims to operate without debt, and we are careful about managing supply. We never want to have too many new homes on the market to the point that it is flooded with supply.”

Carnes Crossroads has been showing some of its most obvious signs of new life in recent months, including the streetscaping and construction of the first single-story homes, starting at $230,000, in St. Thomas Park, the first neighborhood.

The first home at Carnes Crossroads was completed months ago at 513 Wodin Place. The two-story white structure serves as the information center for the development and the office for the newly staffed Carnes Crossroads Real Estate. It sits next to a line of nearly a dozen homes in various stages of completion.

Sloan predicts as many as 60 homes to be built this year by builders David Weekley Homes, Eastwood Homes and Sabal Homes.

Plans have included as many as 5,000 residences and several million square feet of commercial space to set up shop over a two-decade span. The community is also planned to house a mix of retail, schools and medical facilities such as Roper St. Francis Healthcare, which purchased 66 acres for a hospital and medical offices.

Officials broke ground on a 100,000-square-foot office building near U.S. Highway 17A and U.S. Interstate 26 in Summerville late last month. The development by MeadWestvaco’s Community Development and Land Management unit and The Rockefeller Group marks the first piece of development in the community envisioned to eventually house a mix of detached homes, office buildings, apartments, hotels, shopping, restaurants, schools, parks, bike paths, hiking trails and an interconnected road system.

The plan for Nexton, formerly called The Parks of Berkeley, had been sitting on the shelf since 2008. It was recently revived due to economic indicators such as home sales rising and vacancy rates falling, said Ken Seeger, president of MWV Community Development and Land Management.

“What is happening is people have been deferring purchases of homes for several years and there is a pent-up demand,” Seeger said. “Now that the economy is more optimistic and home prices have bottomed out and prices have increased, people feel more secure and you’re seeing some of that pent-up demand coming to the market.”

Seeger envisions completion of the office building this year. A 320-unit apartment complex is expected to start leasing later this year, and a Marriott Courtyard hotel is planned to open in 2014. Home production and sales are predicted to start in 2014, Seeger added. The property is approved for more than 13,000 homes.

The massive growth of homes in one area does draw some competition among the planned communities, but Seeger shrugged off the suggestion.

“Our goal is for Nexton to have a unique set of amenities,” he said, touting the bike trails and sea of parks that will take shape in the community.

Nexton hasn’t heavily advertised the planned community, but Seeger said the activity of construction crews is spreading the word.

Nexton is being constructed in phases to not overbuild, Seeger said. “The recession was sobering for everyone. I think we at Nexton are very careful with phasing of construction and maintaining a pace with the actual demand,” he said. “You do have to do things to give a sense of what it is going to look like, and with parks and trails, you just have to go ahead and do those.”

Despite the recession, Cane Bay developer Ben Gramling plowed ahead. The planned community was unveiled in 2005 and plans call for it ultimately to have 10,000 homes.

To date, builders have sold 1,100 homes across five neighborhoods. The community has houses and a shopping center anchored by a Publix supermarket. Plans for a YMCA facility are on the horizon.

Gramling described the road to recovery as a bumpy one.

“When we started this project, we started right when it all went south,” he said. “I didn’t have doubts that we would have a good community, but when the crash came, that did concern me some.”

Gramling expects the rebounding housing market to propel sales this year, estimating at least 250 homes will sell at Cane Bay this year.

“We are proving to be in the right place with the right product and the right combination of housing, shopping and quality of life,” Gramling said.

The Associated Press and John McDermott of The Post and Courier contributed to this report. Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.