Developers who planned to annex a historic plantation site into Moncks Corner so they could build 1,000 homes have withdrawn their application, ending a months-long debate between neighboring residents and the real estate company.
Doug Polen, the town's community development director,confirmed that Hoyer Investment Co. and D.R. Horton have pulled their application to annex Gippy Plantation. They could reapply in the future, and it is possible that they also could develop the property in Berkeley County.
Located on the headwaters of the Cooper River in the fast-growing county, the plantation once covered about 1,850 acres of primarily rice, cotton and pine in the 1800s.
Meanwhile, Berkeley County has seen a surge of population growth in recent years. More than 8,000 people moved to the area between mid-2015 and mid-2016, boosting the total population to more than 210,000.
Moncks Corner officials know they can't avoid growth but said they want to maintain their small town feel.
"The town knows growth is coming, and we're not against growth," Polen said. "But we want to make sure it's right for the town."
The annexation withdrawal comes two weeks after the Moncks Corner Planning Commission recommended that Town Council deny the annexation. Impassioned residents and the Coastal Conservation League have fought heavy development on the property for environmental and sentimental reasons.
A petition started by the Coastal Conservation League opposing the project had nearly 2,000 signatures when Hoyer Investment and D.R. Horton pulled their application.
Stefan Hoyer, owner of Hoyer Investment, did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Hoyer did say two weeks ago that he is challenged by the passion residents have for Gippy Plantation.
“I can’t compete with the emotional attachment to this property,” Hoyer told the Planning Commission. “Maybe it’s David versus Goliath ... we want to do the right thing with this property.”
Hoyer saw the ire of residents firsthand. Many advocates came to town meetings with "Save Gippy" T-shirts and have facilitated debates on Facebook.
One of them is the online environmentalist group called "Concerned Citizens of the Lowcountry South Carolina," facilitated by Dorchester resident Fereol de Gastyne. He posted updates on the page through every stage of the development request.
"The human reaction is to think that the battle has been won and take off the pressure," de Gastyne said. "But we need to keep our foot on the accelerator of conservationism until the final development plan is approved by Berkeley County or Moncks Corner, if they end up annexing."
Annexing the property into Moncks Corner would have allowed for denser population development.
Developers originally asked to be annexed and then rezoned to allow for more than 1,200 homes. After public backlash, they lowered it to 1,000 homes and decided not to build townhomes or duplexes on the property.
Annexation would also have allowed the property to tap into Moncks Corner's water and sewer system. Currently, the property is zoned to accommodate septic sewer and well water, which lessens the number of homes that can be built on the property.
There are also environmental concerns with developing the plantation.
The Gippy property is on the headwaters of the Cooper River. The former rice field wetlands help water quality along the river toward Charleston Harbor.
Many species of birds that live in or migrate to the region sooner or later comes down to nest or feed in the fields. The fields are habitat for countless fish, reptiles and mammals from alligators to golden eagles. Heavy development could also affect water runoff and flooding in the area.
Hoyer Investments and D.R. Horton could ask Berkeley County to rezone the property so they may build a denser number of homes on the Gippy Plantation grounds.
Jason Crowley with the Coastal Conservation League said developers removing their annexation application is a step in the right direction for the Gippy's protection, but the fight could continue.
"The threat is not over with the property," Crowley said. "If the developer or property owner tries to get it rezoned in the county for the level of density in the annexation request, then we'll continue to advocate against the destruction."