The owners of the 9,000-acre Cainhoy Plantation plan to protect about half the tract — nearly the size of the Charleston peninsula — from development.
The property sits along Clements Ferry and Cainhoy roads in Berkeley County between the Cooper and Wando rivers and will be one of the largest tracts of conserved land within city limits. Charleston annexed the wooded plantation — owned for decades by the Guggenheim family — more than 20 years ago.
It's eventually expected to bring thousands of new residents to a still-rural part of the city. About 9,000 homes could rise on the land long used for hunting and timber. Schools and some commercial development are either already in place or on the way, including a planned Publix supermarket.
To handle the surge in traffic, Clements Ferry Road south of the property is being widened to four lanes, and plans are in the works to expand the highway next to the development, eventually funneling motorists to Interstate 526. Across the Wando, Mount Pleasant also plans to widen S.C. Highway 41.
The developer recently filed for environmental permits on the property, including filling about 190 acres of creeks and other wetlands in phases of construction over a 50-year period.
Land values have escalated in the developing areas around Charleston, outstripping available public funds for conservation, so environmentalists have had to be creative in their approach to protecting the land.
The Cainhoy Plantation owners worked with wildlife biologists and local conservation groups to identify the most ecologically sensitive areas.
The conserved acreage includes a nearly 500-acre nature sanctuary that will be managed to promote habitat for several wildlife and plant species, including bald eagles, red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher frogs and long-leaf pine.
Another 100 or so acres will serve as a buffer along Cainhoy Road, across from the Francis Marion National Forest, to protect the forest and ensure that it can continue to be managed with prescribed fire.
Another 3,500 acres of marshland, highlands, wetlands and upland buffers will be placed under restrictive covenants and ultimately conveyed to a nonprofit group that will manage all protected land on the property.
"By working with the owners of Cainhoy Plantation, we will be able to ensure the security of a large swath of important ecological resources along the Cooper River, within the city of Charleston, without tapping into the very limited pots of public funds,” said Raleigh West, executive director of Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust.
Lord Berkeley will hold the conservation easement and monitor the protected land.
The Conservation Trust as well as the Coastal Conservation League applauded the move, but they hope to add more protected parcels on the greater Cainhoy peninsula and nearby.
"We think the land protection is a step in the right direction for protecting cultural and natural resources, particularly the part north of Clements Ferry Road,” said Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League.
The agency has been working with the stakeholders of the property and its development for several years to find a solution to conserving the urban region's outskirts from overdevelopment.
The master plan for Cainhoy Plantation calls for its build-out to minimize the effects on wildlife habitat and include a lengthy trail system.
Approved in 2014, the plan also calls for two fishing villages near the Wando and Cooper rivers, commercial sites, offices and apartments along Clements Ferry Road, a light industrial zone along Cainhoy Road, at least two school sites, parks and other residential development.
"With half of the land being placed in conservation, we’ll be able to offer passive recreational opportunities in an extraordinary natural setting," said Matt Sloan of DI Development Co., which is managing the development.
The trail system will expand to more than 100 miles through developed and natural settings on the property.
"This will happen on a very large scale that is rarely found in the heart of a metropolitan area," Sloan said.