Dorchester County is large. According to Data USA, its population has increased; as of 2017, the county had over 152,000 residents, a 2.15 percent increase from 2016. A Post and Courier article in 2018 cited it as being in the top five of “top-growth SC counties,” with the latest Census Bureau stats putting its population at over 156,000.

It is comprised of the City of North Charleston, Towns of Summerville, Ridgeville, St. George, Harleyville, Reevesville, Lincolnville and the communities of Dorchester, Grover, Ladson and Texas. According to the 2018 Dorchester County Comprehensive Plan, the most rapid population growth occurred during the 1980s and the county is experiencing a new era of positive growth with a “projected 2030 population of 206,100 or 49,664 new residents.

“We’ve seen Dorchester County go from a small rural area to one that is ripe with lots of employment opportunities and the housing industry is really headed toward the area – every day,” said Linda Collins of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Southern Coast Real Estate (BHHS).

Five decades ago, the area was rural, largely agricultural – a nature enthusiast and water-lover’s paradise, with one of the longest Blackwater rivers – the Edisto — in North America. There are 1,660 acres of protected lands in the county today.

“Dorchester County is attracting out-of-state buyers, and military families really like the proximity to the base,” said Sarah Coleman-Lee of AgentOwned Realty Company. “This area is growing and it’s amazing to see. Ten years ago, I was in the military and I remember when I got to this area. It still has that ‘quaint’ town feel.”

Income has also grown in this area, as have property values. The median property value in the county rose from $169,700 to $177,500, a 4.6 percent increase between 2016 and 2017. That trend is ticking upward – as of 2019, the median price for home value is $214,700 according to the latest Zillow reports, a 6.2 percent increase from 2017.

Zillow predicts that they’ll continue to rise, at a rate of at least 3.3 percent.

“Dorchester County is a more budget-friendly place than so many areas,” Collins said. “We have probably the most affordable housing in the Tri-County area, as a whole.”

Historic Summerville

Summerville has approximately 50,000 residents. It is the largest town in Dorchester County, between Berkley County to the northeast, Colleton to the west and Charleston to the south. Since 2000, it has experienced a 60 percent growth rate. The historic part of Summerville is where the Flowertown and Sweet Tea festivals are held annually and it is on the National Register of Historic Homes, dating back to the 1800s. Prices range from the mid-$200,000 for small cottages to over a million for estate homes.

“Historic Summerville has always done well and continues to be strong,” said Collins. “We don’t have too many homes here go on the market too often because these properties stay in the family. When they go on the market, they sell very quickly.”

Collins said one of the agents of BHHS, Jana Bantz, has a rare listing in the historic district. The turn-of-the-century home, 4,000 square foot home was featured in Azalea Magazine and was built in the 1880s by the great, great grandson of Colonel William Rhett. It has original heart pine flooring, double piazzas and has undergone considerable renovations. It listed for $795,000 as of June 12, 2019.

Collins remarked that Summerville could be compared to downtown Charleston because of its historical significance and beauty, as well as walking accessibility to unique shops and restaurants.

“The difference is many homes here have quite large yards,” she said. “Once people buy here they don’t leave.”

Collins herself bought her home over 30 years ago and as she puts it, the area has a feeling of “serenity.”

“Walking to the historic square, having dinner and getting to know each other are part of this community,” Collins revealed. “People like to work in their yards, there’s an elementary school right in town. It feels comfortable, quiet. I raised my children here and they could ride their bikes around the square.”

Historic Summerville residents continue to uphold the quaint, small-town feel and the Town of Summerville has put considerable funds into preserving the town’s square.

Master-planned developments

Though technically the neighborhood of Nexton is in Berkeley County, the line is ‘blurred,’” Collins said. “It has a Summerville address and it is right there at Berkeley and Dorchester counties. It is a hotspot for buyers and it is a live, work, play development that so many are receptive to. People love it – from first-time buyers all the way to senior citizens.”

The Nexton interchange, Exit 197 services both Nexton and Cane Bay and was completed in May. The new interchange and five-mile parkway creates a much-needed flow to help those residents connect to Summerville, Dorchester and Berkeley counties. According to the Nexton website, the project has been in the works since 2007 and the developers of Nexton funded $38 million of the $88 million project to complete the new traffic pattern. Nexton Parkway connects to U.S. 176 and to Brighton Park Boulevard that leads into Main Street in Summerville.

Master-planned communities are becoming more and more part of the landscape of Dorchester County as people move to the area and businesses choose to call it home. Inevitably, traffic becomes an issue. According to the Dorchester County 2018 Comprehensive Plan, “commutes can range up to 60 minutes for those who work in Charleston.”

Coleman-Lee agreed. “It’s no secret we have an influx of traffic. I think one of things a lot of people want is less commute time so they are looking for ways to cut down on their commute. For many, these communities (master planned) have it all there. People love having the convenience where they don’t have to travel far to get what they want.”

Indeed, traffic has become an issue as the area has grown. According to an online poll conducted and Dorchester’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan, increased traffic and delays had the most critical impact of projected growth, with the second impact being the cost of providing the infrastructure to support that growth; therefore, providing jobs closer to where people live is a high priority overall to Dorchester County’s future plans. “Developments should be highly walkable and include parks, amenities, connected streets, neighborhoods, retail, employment and institutions.”

Dorchester County is home to over 80 companies – from Fortune 500 organizations to small businesses – it is diverse, including aerospace, automotive, marine, bioscience and more. Robert Bosch, one of the area’s largest employers is here. The Volvo plant in nearby Berkeley County has brought even more need for these communities in the area; and in the next few years, Volvo plans to hire more workers.

As the county’s industry grows, the need for housing, less commute time and nearby shopping and dining conveniences is crucial to it livability. Realtors are witnessing more and more of that in the area and buyers are responding.

“Coosaw Preserve in Westcott Plantation is attracting a lot of buyers right now,” said Coleman-Lee. “What they have to offer and the affordability is there. Homes in that community start in the upper $200,000 to mid $300,000 price range. Out-of-town buyers ask about Coosaw Preserve and military families like the proximity to the base, interstate and then of course, area schools.”

Coleman stated she’d had five clients in the past month buy in the new community. The schools are an integral and vital part of Dorchester County, with the two public school districts being the greatest employers, educating over 27,000 children and adults. According to the Dorchester’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan, there are 4,200 educational personnel working in 33 facilities in the county. Dorchester has the greater percentage of residents with diplomas and college degrees as compared to South Carolina.

Wescott Plantation is a very large neighborhood in Summerville, comprising townhomes, single-family homes and new construction, such as Coosaw. There is a neighborhood pool, clubhouse, park and a soccer field. Many of the homes have views of wetland and golf courses.

“Wescott Plantation is very large and has a range of homes,” Coleman-Lee said. “The lowest price home is about $255,000 and the newer construction, a lot is going on there, start at $300,000.”

Summers Corner, a new community, is within walking distance to entertainment and two schools within the neighborhood. As with most planned communities, the environment is catered to giving residents amenities that allow them to enjoy activities without leaving home – parks, gardens, common spaces, pool, and in construction, a performing arts center and planned village center for shopping and dining.

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The Ponds and Cresswind are master-planned communities in Summerville that have preserved green spaces, new homes, on-site fitness facilities, ponds for fishing and kayaking, sidewalks and trails. The Cresswind neighborhood, a 55+ gated community within The Ponds has a resort-style clubhouse and access to all the amenities within the larger neighborhood. Winning a Grand Aurora Award for Best Single Family Detached Home under 2,000 square feet, their monthly events schedule gives residents the option of never leaving home to enjoy activities, exercise and dining.

Away from it all

Dorchester county officials are working to enhance the experience of the Ashley River in Dorchester by planning a “park master plan with features that will include an extensive trail system, playground, and river access” according to the 2018 Dorchester County Comprehensive Plan. The plan includes protecting 85 acres that will comprise the green space for Dorchester County residents, with the added benefit of walking trails along the river.

Dorchester County has over 10,000 acres of natural protected land in the Francis Beidler Forest and is home to Lowcountry indigenous flora, fauna and wildlife, some of which are the largest remaining species in the world. This place is sacred to many and outdoorsmen and women hike, bike and kayak here. Givhans Ferry State Park borders the Edisto River and is over 900 acres, with a 21-mile long stretch, the Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail.

Once you enter this part of the county – life slows down – and the surrounding farms, swamps, forests, Ashley and Edisto Rivers are part of the lifestyle. Plans are in the works for creating parks in these rural areas, to both preserve and give access to natural resources for residents and visitors.

For many who choose to call Dorchester County, home – this natural unspoiled beauty is the reason and preserving it is crucial to them.

Buyers who love living in rural countryside settings gravitate to Dorchester’s small towns, such as Ridgeville, Harleyville and St. George areas. Here, there are still family farms and sprawling land and yards. The landscape is dotted with homes that are part of the rural character, yet access to the busier communities or downtown Charleston is just right, to live rural with drivable conveniences.

“The clients I have in those rural areas want a quieter lifestyle,” Coleman-Lee said. “They want to be close enough to get into town and get access to what they want but they want to be in a peaceful and serene environment. I have several clients who ask for these areas, with less traffic and want to have more space around them.”

Coleman-Lee has a listing in Ridgeville for a 2,500 square foot lakefront home that sits on a 3-acre lot. With a boat launch and three docks, it’s a home that ticks all the boxes for homebuyers in this demographic. As of June 12, 2019, it listed for $478,500.

Changing and growing

Dorchester was once considered a bedroom community where downtown commuters lived. Though it remains as such, the future appears bright for the county, with its planned infrastructure attracting developers and businesses to invest in the community.

As with several areas throughout the Lowcountry, Dorchester County is experiencing “growing pains.” Rapid growth creates the need for thoughtful planning that incorporates the diverse needs of the community it serves. The residents here seem to want modern conveniences in their neighborhoods with an emphasis on preserving some of South Carolina’s most pristine natural resources.

“Dorchester County is growing and I think there’s much more development in the future,” Coleman-Lee said. “I look at it as still a quaint place – a friendly town with Southern hospitality. It has great, close-knit communities and so many businesses have come into the area – Dorchester County is really building up and giving people the quality of life they want and need.”

Contact Brigitte Surette at bsurette@postandcourier.com.