Eco-Friendly: Neighborly Johns Island community gearing up for new phase of energy-saving homes

Palmettos line a street beside a passive park in The Villages in St. John’s Woods, situated off Maybank Highway on Johns Island (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).

By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

Adults and youngsters at The Villages in St. John’s Woods took a day earlier this month to climb into carts and set off around the neighborhood.

They weren’t chasing wayward golf balls; it was the subdivision’s informal Fourth of July golf cart parade.

Such close-knit events are, er, par for the course in the cozy 148-home Johns Island neighborhood off Maybank Highway.

“I love it out here; it’s truly a community,” says Stephen Harris, who with wife Peggy moved to The Villages in St. John’s Woods four years ago. The neighborhood is “a wonderful place for children,” says Harris, noting that the couple is expecting its first child.

The 130-acre residential outpost is relatively new, with the first homes built a decade ago. Developer Pearlstine Properties LLC, headed by Charleston businessman Edwin Pearlstine, chose one of the more rural places in the area at the time.

“When we came to Johns Island, there was literally not anything out here,” says John Westendorff, who has headed development and sales since the neighborhood’s inception.

A smart early move was to install an amenities center, which includes a swimming pool, outdoor pavilion and playground, so homeowners could enjoy attractions right away and not wait for something to be built, he says.

Since then, the neighborhood has gone through the early- to mid-2000s housing boom when its prices were advertised as high as $675,000, subsequent slide when houses dropped as low as the $200,000s and recent leveling-off where homes range from the $350,000s to $500,000, he says.

The developer about three years ago quietly put the brakes on new construction, even though the Villages’ build out calls for 276 homes.

Earlier this year, he shifted gears, giving approval to a new phase of at least 35 homes to be called The Village Place. While a sign of the local housing market’s emerging recovery, the move is significant in another way. The phase’s designer, Amerisips, specializes in an energy-reducing construction design with the goal of “net zero” power cost.

“It’s putting all the pieces together,” Amerisips manager Steve Bostic says. Crews build an “eco-shell” that uses structural insulated panels for walls and flooring; extra-thin roof top solar strips that provide as much juice as wider panels yet can double as shingles; a high-tech air-to-water heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; and an energy recovery ventilator.

The shell adds $20,000 to home costs but $11,000 can be rebated via state and federal programs, Bostic says. Crews are working on a model, which should be completed in about 45 days.

Amerisips, whose homes and products are EPA and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, also offers hundreds of house plans that buyers can choose from to finish the homes and is distributor for a host of eco-products used in construction — again reducing overall costs.

With everything pre-engineered, the result is a “good quality home,” Bostic says.

Westendorff, of Harbourtowne Real Estate, is onboard with the new phase.

“We are ahead of the game. I think it is going to be great,” he says.

The new phase comes at an opportune time. “This market has been a lot better than most markets over here,” he says. Still, just 50 residences have sold since 2005.

“One good thing about Mr. Pearlstine, he owns it. Three years ago, he said, ‘John, keep the grass cut.’” Then he effectively put a moratorium on new construction until now, says Westendorff, who intends to move his sales office to the Amerisips model after it’s completed.

Meanwhile, residents such as Harris are pleased with their move to The Villages.

Situated less than 10 miles from Charleston’s peninsula, the neighborhood is close to a growing number of Johns Island retailers such as Piggly Wiggly and Food Lion grocery stores and several new restaurants, says Harris, the homeowners’ association president.

“It’s a friendly neighborhood, everybody knows each other,” he says.

The Villages is also a value-priced community, says Harris, pointing out one reason why he and his wife moved there.

“We had a condo in downtown Charleston and wanted something bigger,” he says of their two-story house, which cost $460,000.

“For the price and quality,” he says, “you can’t beat it.”

The properties are marketed by Harbourtowne Real Estate. Contact Westendoff, the sales manager, at 843-637-4311.

To reach The Villages in St. John’s Woods from downtown Charleston, travel over the Ashley River Bridge and turn left onto Folly Road. Cross the Wappoo Bridge and make a right on Maybank Highway. Follow Maybank past River Road and two miles ahead on the left is St. John’s Woods Parkway. Turn left, and the neighborhood is ahead.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.

THE VILLAGES IN ST. JOHN’S WOODS AT A GLANCE:

Location: Johns Island

Number of homes: 148

Square footage: 2,000-3,100

Look and feel: Forest-y entrance gives way to manicured good-sized lots. Bungalows, cottages and other Lowcountry-style homes built with wood, fiber-cement or stucco siding predominate. Most residences come with detached garages. Balanced mix of young professionals, families, retirees. Amenities center nearly hidden behind trees in the center of the neighborhood. Mature trees include live oaks, water oaks, magnolia, pine, birch, maple and palmettos. The Village Place, a new energy-saving section from Amerisips, is the first new construction phase in at least three years.

Homes on market: 5 (35 new homes are in the works)

List prices: $350,000-$399,900

Schools: Angel Oak Elementary, Haut Gap Middle, St. John’s High

Fun facts: The developer is Pearlstine Properties LLC, headed by Edwin Pearlstine of Charleston: The Pearlstine family traces its business roots in South Carolina to 1865; The neighborhood is expected at some point to connect via an avenue to Bohicket Road.