After tearing down dozens of homes in West Ashley that have flooded repeatedly, the city of Charleston is trying to figure out what to do with the land.
The properties, mostly in the Shadowmoss area, once held townhomes or freestanding houses. In some cases, the sites flooded three times in three years.
One possible response is restoring marshes or small patches of forest on the lots, said Matthew Fountain, city director of stormwater management.
The city, with the help of the Nature Conservancy and the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service, recently won a federal grant to study "renaturalizing" the land, or converting it into wetlands that soak up and filter water.
Charleston will use $125,000 in federal funds to design a plan and solicit input from community members. The city also is contributing $125,000.
"There's a real opportunity at the city to really push towards nature-based approaches," Fountain said.
Shadowmoss and other nearby neighborhoods are part of the Church Creek basin, where a single, narrow creek drains thousands of acres into the Ashley River. Decades of suburban development made the drainage worse as builders trucked in compacted fill dirt to raise house lots.
A wetlands program wouldn't just improve water retention. It could also provide a teaching opportunity to show residents how wetlands are restored, and give them the tools to create their own rain gardens, said Karen Jackson of the Clemson extension service.
The extension service regularly holds workshops on plantings that help water infiltrate into land. In this case, a real-world project in Charleston could serve as a practical demonstration.
"I think it’s being seen as, really, a pilot project on what can be done elsewhere," Jackson said of the program.
As the city develops its plan, it has a range of land to work with. The torn-down homes were bought mainly with money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which offers grants so that the same homes don't flood over and over.
That's a voluntary program, so neighbors often make opposite decisions about what to do with their land. In some cases, Charleston will only be able to reshape a single empty lot on an otherwise occupied street.
The single biggest chunk of land is the former site of the Bridge Pointe Townhomes — where 32 homes used to sit at the end of Two Loch Place.
The parcel is literally an island, with a bowed asphalt bridge leading to it and a retention pond surrounding it. The gray, wood-sided townhouses that used to circle a central mailbox are gone, and in their place are the tracks of a bulldozer and sparsely seeded grass.
Jack Whiddon, who lives on nearby Stutz Court, said he's long asked the city to expand drainage ponds in the area. He's open to different options for the Bridge Pointe land and knows many of his neighbors would appreciate a public park.
"There's a lot of young families out here that have small children, and the closest park to them is probably over at Bees Ferry," Whiddon said.
Fountain acknowledged that many people would probably like another recreation location, and said there will be opportunities for public input as the city figures out what it will do.
"There is likely going to be a heavy neighborhood outreach process," he said.