Exiting Interstate 26 onto S.C. Highway 27, the first thing a motorist sees is the sign for the rural Pringletown community and the shield of greenery along the undeveloped interchange until farther down the road.
All that’s about to change, and it couldn’t make Jearlina Ravenell any happier as she sits at a table in her ice cream and sandwich shop on S.C. 27 waiting for the next customer.
Volvo announced Monday plans to build a $500 million car plant on a 2,800-acre parcel called the Camp Hall tract just down the road off this Berkeley County highway. Initially, it will employ 2,000 people when it starts producing cars in three years. The workforce could eventually double.
“It’s just awesome,” Ravenell said. “It’s just amazing we finally get something in our community to help people with jobs, and hopefully it will increase my business. I don’t see anything bad with it. It’s just a blessing. Never would I have thought I would live to see this.”
Down the street, Andy Patel of Shell Food Mart said the new plant will boost employment and housing development will increase.
“It will mean more business,” he said.
In tiny Ridgeville, on the opposite side of I-26 in Dorchester County, the one-traffic-light town of 2,000 is abuzz with the news of a huge nearby industrial development.
“It’s going to change this area forever,” Mayor James Williams said. “Everyone is talking about it now.”
He predicted the I-26/S.C. 27 interchange will one day look like the bustling Summerville exit 12 miles down the interstate.
“A lot of people don’t want change, and I don’t know why because change is going to come,” he said.
Williams cited a recent proposal to bring a Family Dollar to the town. “You would have thought a war was coming,” he said. “People were protesting that they didn’t want it because of the competition.”
At Vaughan’s General Store, a part of Ridgeville since 1933, owner Scott Vaughan welcomed the new Volvo plant, saying it will be good for his business in the short term — at least until big-box grocery stores follow rooftops that inevitably will come to the area, he said.
“It’s needed for this area of the Lowcountry,” he said.
He suspects the majority of the new businesses that follow the carmaker will settle along U.S. Highway 78 and I-26 just outside the town’s limits.
“I hope it doesn’t shrink the town, and everything moves out to U.S. 78,” Vaughan said. “It’s definitely going to change Pringletown and the Lebanon community drastically. The Lebanon area has been rural farmland forever. I feel for the people in the Lebanon area, but we need industry in the area. This will have the impact Boeing had, at least.”
Lynn Hoover, a Lebanon resident and member of the Berkeley County Planning Commission, said a development agreement reached three years ago on the Camp Hall tract between MeadWestvaco, the county and the neighborhoods around it should minimize the impact on her rural community and others nearby.
“They gave us quite a few concessions,” she said.
The county’s normal setback for industries is 100 feet, but on the Camp Hall tract Hoover said it’s 300 feet around the entire perimeter.
Access points to the industry also would not come off Lebanon Road or Cypress Campground Road but would either go to S.C. 27, U.S. Highway 176 or a new interchange on I-26 if they stick to the agreement, she said.
That would prevent an interchange from being built at Cypress Campground Road where it crosses I-26, something the Lebanon community has fought hard to prevent for many years.
“The community several years ago made the decision to see the Camp Hall tract developed as industrial rather than residential,” Hoover said. “We felt it would have less impact on existing communities.”
Development, whether residential or industrial, is nudging up against Lebanon, though it is shielded on the east by Cypress Swamp.
On the other side of the swamp, more than 25,000 homes are planned in three communities northwest of Summerville over the next quarter-century.
About three miles outside Ridgeville, the Bridlewood Farms subdivision is sprouting from the ground. Other developments are nearby.
As the Charleston region spreads up I-26 and more people move in, the town’s longtime businesses may feel the impact as chain grocers and other retailers follow suit.
That’s one reason Vaughan opposes a discount dollar store moving into the area. “Family Dollar would kill my business,” he said. “This is where people come to shop.”
Vaughan’s cashier, Julie Fleenor, sees the change for the better.
“Maybe a lot of young people won’t move out of the community and (they will) stay and build it stronger,” she said.
At Carter’s Fast Stop No. 2, a gas station and convenience store across the railroad tracks from the general store, manager Lara Detamore applauds Volvo’s decision to locate nearby.
“I think it’s going to be good for the area as far as jobs and opportunities,” said Detamore, who has run the store for seven years. “It will be an opportunity for more business in the area. If they contain the traffic, then everything will be fine.”
But listening to customers, she said about half are happy and the other half aren’t because they don’t want to see the changes that are coming.
“You move to the country to be in the country,” she said of those disenchanted with the announcement. “There is plenty of room to grow as long as the town allows for growth because we still want to maintain the country feeling.”
At Christina’s Pizza and Subs in the heart of Ridgeville, Bruce Krontz believes all the growth will be just outside the town along Highway 78.
“I think this area will be abandoned,” he said.
His daughter, Christina Yagman, who runs the red-and-white shop decorated in nostalgic Coca-Cola memorabilia, quickly interjected, “I hope not.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.