SUMMERVILLE -- Just past the busy Oakbrook commercial district, Dorchester Road seems to turn pastoral. The commuter throughway narrows to two lanes, bends through wetlands and travels for a mile through a woodsy stretch of homes set back behind live oaks, wisteria and landscaped plants.
The ambience is about to be eaten up by a project widening the road to four lanes right through the ornamental brick entrance walls to the upscale Ashborough and slightly more upscale Ashborough East subdivisions.
After a few years of public and informal design-tweaking meetings -- and just a few months before an anticipated March work start date -- Ashborough East residents jammed a Dorchester County Council meeting Monday to oppose the design and offer their own.
That's the road-building business. The ongoing fight over the design is the latest residents' "road war" in a roll call that spans the crowding Lowcountry -- Steed Creek Road in Berkeley County, Rifle Range Road and U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant, Harbor View Road on James Island, Maybank Highway on Johns Island and on and on.
"People like what they see. They don't like things changed," said Donnie Dukes, program manager for Davis & Floyd, the project's design engineers.
The Ashborough East alternative design has some sharp edges. The residents say the road as designed uses the development's common property, destroys the landscaping and entrance walls and devalues their homes. The solution, they say, is simple -- use all the right of way right up to the Ashborough subdivision on the other side.
Moving to the Ashborough side of the road would mean taking pieces of individual homeowner lots.
"On the Ashborough side there are houses. They act like they don't care about the Ashborough people," said Robbie Robbins, a member of the Dorchester County Sales Tax Transportation Authority that is shepherding the road project.
Ashborough East was laid out with that landscaped common property as a buffer between it and the road; Ashborough doesn't have it -- just one of the little disparities between the side-by-side, sibling Westvaco developments.
As a rule, rights of way are used evenly on both sides of a project, Dukes said. But given the choice between taking a home's property or open space, there's less impact taking open space.
The burden of ceding right-of-way space should be shared equally, said George Barber, an Ashborough East resident and retired engineer who helped put together that group's alternative design. "Everybody who bought a house in Ashborough or Ashborough East knew that" about the right of way. "We're just asking to mitigate the effects on us."
"Between taking common property and taking individual homeowner's property, in my mind taking common property is the right thing," said Ed Coggins, president of the Ashborough Civic Association.
To keep that common property, the Ashborough East residents also would like to do away with a proposed 10-foot bike and pedestrian walkway along the road and have a retention pond made smaller. And they want to keep their brick entrance wall.
There's just one small problem with that. The entrance walls for both subdivisions were built encroaching the right of way, Dukes said. Parts of them are on road property. The project will pay to relocate them or build a replacement of some sort.
"This should not have been a surprise to them. We realized that losing the walls is just one of the things we have to accept. We also realized we're going to be losing some very fine, hundreds-of-years-old trees," Coggins said.
Barber said Ashborough East homeowners have gotten nowhere talking with roads officials, so they took their fight to council. Robbins said homeowners' representatives met with the authority last week and were assured their ideas would be considered at a design meeting with the S.C. Department of Transportation today. The design has been reworked all along to accommodate the residents' shifting concerns, he said.
"We didn't expect to see them (at the council meeting) to bash the Davis & Floyd and the authority for being unresponsive to them, which is not the case," Robbins said. But "we're working on it. We'll try to do the best we can."