Johns Island Traffic (copy)

At rush hour, this traffic light at Maybank Highway and River Road is what ultimately leads to the traffic backup on the Stono River Bridge. The pitchfork plan would give motorists two new roads to get to and from River Road, so they wouldn't necessarily have to wait for this light. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Development of 70 acres known as the Kerr property on Johns Island and the construction of a southern pitchfork road may be years down the road, but Charleston City Council members have paved the way for it.

Their decision Tuesday creates a new zoning plan for the large tract near River Road and Maybank Highway at the island's eastern gateway.

Three council members — Carol Jackson, Marvin Wagner and Gary White — voted against the planned unit development. Wagner, who represents Johns Island, said he is concerned the project will generate more traffic in an already congested area.

"The problem there is not the [planned unit development], it's the fact it's going to generate more traffic in the high-traffic area," he said Wednesday. "It's not good for an over-burdened traffic system."

Jackson said she voted against it because the city still is gathering information about flooding on Johns Island through its Dutch Dialogues research, a task force organized to scrutinize how the city handles water and storms.

While the development plan makes room for a southern pitchfork — a new road between Maybank Highway and River Road — Charleston County currently has no money budgeted to build it.

Jackson expressed concern about that project's uncertainty, especially around the pitchfork's funding, given the county's $300 million-plus commitment to finish Interstate 526 in the area.

"We'll know more at the end of the summer than we do today," Jackson said. "I think those were good reasons to pause."

White said he's concerned about the city possibly creating an unintended liability by approving a plan with a new road that might not be built.

"I worry that we create liabilities for ourselves, we don't think far enough in advance about the situation, and I think that's where we're going to end up," White said. 

Council members approved the development of 698 detached single-family homes, and conveyance of what will ultimately be a southern pitchfork which would run from Maybank to River just south of the Maybank intersection.

Jacob Lindsey, the city's Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, said the parcel currently is zoned to allow 841 dwelling units, and the property owner agreed to reduce his original request for 798 homes to 698.

Lindsey said 116 would be built in the first phase and the property owner has agreed to wait two years before applying for building permits for commercial development in the plan.

The project would allow for commercial and residential development, as well as green space around historical sites, including existing headstones and indigo vats.

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The southern pitchfork project has been estimated at $7.5 million, but the county does not have funding currently set aside for it.

Mayor John Tecklenburg said Tuesday the county's current road plans include building a northern pitchfork and improving the River-Maybank intersection by adding two left-hand turn lanes from River Road onto Maybank. 

"They're not at a place where they're going to say, 'We're going to fund the southern pitchfork,' and that's just what it is," Teckleburg said. 

Councilman Mike Seekings urged Tecklenburg to advocate for construction of the southern pitchfork. 

"We've got the property. You take the property and a resolution of this council to the county and go fight for it," Seekings said. "We got 10 years. We should be able to do this in 10 years."

Lindsey said the city is under no obligation to construct the roadway, and leaders hope it eventually will be constructed with some combination of public and private funding. 

Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

Mikaela Porter joined The Post and Courier in April 2019 and writes about the city of Charleston. Previously, Mikaela reported on breaking news, local government, school issues and community happenings for The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.