The master plan for the East Edisto development is as broad and expansive as the property itself -- mile after mile of woodlands and farms leading to environmentally sensitive community "corners," villages and towns ringed with lakes and parks, even "green" commerce parks.
But its MeadWestvaco-led developers, and the civic leaders looking over their shoulders, said the company has committed to follow through on the largest real estate development the packaging giant has ever undertaken, creating and conserving a region so diverse that a design consultant called the project unprecedented.
"We have always done what we said we were going to do, and we will always do what we say we are going to do," said Ken Seeger, president of MeadWestvaco Development and Land Management.
MeadWestavco on Wednesday released the plan for the 78,000-acre expanse of pinelands it owns south of S.C. Highway 61 to the Edisto River in Dorchester and Charleston counties. The plan is a blueprint for working with local governments to forge development agreements, building and zoning codes, deed restrictions and other tools needed to make it happen.
Construction could start by 2012 in Summers Corner, a small community proposed along Highway 61 in Dorchester County near the Legend Oaks neighborhood, company officials said. Two somewhat larger villages also are planned between there and Ashley Ridge High School on S.C. Highway 165 south of Summerville. A business park is about to be started nearby.
No estimates were given for the number of houses or people the communities or the region might hold. But Seeger said the region could be home to 10 percent to 15 percent of the growth in the Charleston area over the next 50 years.
"Its evolution will depend on the economy and the development (overall) of the Lowcountry," Seeger said.
The initial 10- to 15-year phase of the plan would focus on the Ashley Ridge area and a business park along U.S. Highway 17 in Charleston County near Old Jacksonboro Road. A nature center also is proposed along the Edisto River near County Line Road to provide public access to the waterway.
Seeger speculated that, based on today's market, home prices could range from the low $100,000s to $400,000.
In the second phase, a larger "Lake Perry" town would be built along U.S. Highway 17A. In the third phase, the "Spring Grove" town would be built in Charleston County.
The plan envisions an array of dwellings from densely clustered multi-family and single-family neighborhoods to large, deed-restricted farms. The smaller corners and crossroads would focus on large-lot and 1- or 2-acre homes. A braid of greenways would offer buffer between communities and wind through them. Interconnecting community greenways and recreation trails would be opened along existing canals and other open spaces.
The entire region is envisioned as "green," placing an emphasis on environmentally responsible building and transportation, such as walkable communities and neighborhood electric vehicles. One of the goals is to reduce the "carbon footprint," or the load of greenhouse gases produced by the region, by 25 percent compared with a conventionally developed area. The plan leaves 75 percent of the region as countryside -- woodlands and fields -- to provide for everything from sports to farming and hunting.
The East Edisto development would be near the 6,600-acre Watson Hill tract, which also is owned by MeadWestvaco. Seeger said there are no immediate plans to develop that tract, which is near historic Middleton Place Plantation and has been ensnared in a four-year legal battle over North Charleston's attempt to annex it.
MeadWestvaco sold Watson Hill but bought it back from a developer after public outrage over plans to build 5,000 houses and hotel rooms around a golf course. The company plans to develop it more rurally, as part of the 75 percent countryside component of the larger region.
Tracts along the Edisto River would be conserved, and adjoining areas restricted to large-acre rural densities. Most of the 32,000 acres in Charleston County would be left country.
The regional master plan is the culmination of more than two years of meetings that included members of the community and others. The goal is to develop a "sustainable" region while developing a sustainable business, said John Luke, MeadWestvaco Corp.'s chairman and chief executive officer.
Company shareholders have bought into the "long-term accumulation of value" of doing it that way, he said.
"We're absolutely tickled. It was a lot of talking, going back and forth and discussion. But it's a wonderful plan. It really is," said Robby Robbins, the outgoing board chairman of the Greater Summerville-Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a good long-range plan," said North Charleston Councilman Ed Astle, whose district potentially includes Watson Hill. "Like anything else, it will be driven by the economy. So far, I like it."