Plan protects 53,000 acres along Edisto WestRock unveils deal, among largest preservation efforts in S.C.

A large swath of Charleston and Dorchester counties flanking the Edisto River will be preserved from future development.

Paper and packaging giant WestRock, formerly MeadWestvaco Corp., unveiled final plans for the 72,000-acre East Edisto tract Thursday, saying 53,000 acres will be protected by the newly formed East Edisto Conservancy.

Plans began nine years ago for the 19-mile stretch as landowners, community leaders and conservationists started to lay out a vision to develop portions of the rural tract and protect much of the rest as existing plantations, farmsteads and green space.

Dorchester and Charleston counties have signed off on the development agreement.

“This is one of the largest land preservation efforts in the state,” said Ken Seeger, president of Summerville-based WestRock Land and Development. “We permanently restricted the property to low rural densities in perpetuity.”

For instance, much of it is restricted to one house per 25 acres and areas closer to the river can have just one residence on 200 acres, he said.

Dana Beach, executive director of the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League, called it a landmark conservation agreement between the Ashley and Edisto rivers.

“It proves that commerce and conservation can not only coexist, but that they can dramatically enhance each other,” Beach said. “It is important to remember that the stage for this achievement was set decades ago, with the pioneering efforts in the ACE basin and on Sandy Island, where creativity and collaboration merged to produce unprecedented conservation results.”

The five-member conservancy, with three members from the conservation community and two from landowners, will oversee and enforce density restrictions on the property, Seeger said. WestRock has provided the group $1.6 million to fund ongoing conservation and protection of the land.

The East Edisto tract includes WestRock’s 15,000-acre Summers Corner mixed-use development south of Summerville and a similar 3,500-acre project near Ravenel called Spring Grove.

WestRock said it worked with hundreds of community members, conservation leaders and local government officials to outline a vision that included creating jobs before homes, such as the Pine Hill Business Campus on U.S. Highway 17A near Summerville; establishing sustainable towns and villages, such as Summers Corner and the planned Spring Grove; providing educational opportunities with new schools included in development plans; and maintaining and preserving the Lowcountry’s character.

“The vision plan for East Edisto was driven by community input,” Seeger said. “It creates a bridge of preserved land from the Ashley River Historic District to the Ace Basin.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.