Some James Island residents are so concerned that two proposed developments could worsen the area’s already severe flooding issues that they've banned together — and even hired an expert — to determine just how dangerous it would be for a pair of new subdivisions to join the community.
Eight wary homeowners from the Laurel Park and Marlborough neighborhoods say the proposed Central Park and Riverland Oaks subdivisions are a threat at a time when they say the city of Charleston hasn't done enough to get the current flooding floes under control.
“We have been flooding here for decades and they’ve never fixed our drainage problems,” said resident Jimmy Mazyck who has lived in the nearby Laurel Park subdivision for 21 years.
“So for them to build two new neighborhoods right on top of our problems, without first fixing our existing problems, is just unbelievable," he said. "It’s negligent by the city to allow that to happen.”
City of Charleston officials, however, insist that the proposed subdivisions must meet rigorous stormwater requirements before permits are issued.
According to a subdivision application submitted to the city last year, the Central Park development would include nearly 40 lots on 10.35 acres at Central Park Road, Riley Road and Flint Street on James Island.
A prior report said 146 new town homes would be built in the proposed Riverland Oaks subdivision off Maybank Highway.
Both developments have been in the works for a while and would be built on undeveloped strips of land.
People who live near the lots eyed for development say the area has severe draining issues and often floods during heavy rains.
Theodosia Wade, who owns a home on Flint Street, said when the Fleming Woods neighborhood was built a few years ago, residents of the nearby Marlborough community were told the new development would manage the stormwater and might even make the flooding situation better.
But it has made things worse, she said.
Residents are concerned the same thing may happen with the addition of the Central Park and Riverland Oaks developments.
Mazyck, a retired firefighter, said he believes over-development and a lack of maintenance have increased the flooding on James Island. So he has been cleaning ditches and pipes himself to assist with water flow in the area. He is just one member of the group of James Island residents who have organized to advocate for drainage improvements.
“We want the drainage improvements that are already in the pipeline to be completed before they add the developments,” said Laurel Park resident Franny Henty. “That’s all we’re asking.”
Neighbors brought in hydrology expert Steven Emerman, owner of Malach Consulting, to conduct a study on the potential impacts of new urban development on flooding on James Island. His firm specializes in hydrologic modeling.
Emerman said typically the conversion of woods and wetlands into residential lots would increase the peak stormwater discharge rate and runoff volume. He said some stormwater drainage ditches in the area are almost non-functional because of mud, vegetation, debris and trash.
“The plans for the proposed Central Park and Riverland Oaks developments on James Island within the city of Charleston are inconsistent with Charleston stormwater manuals that require that new developments will not increase the probability of flooding during a 100-year, 24-hour storm event,” Emerman said in the report.
He claims there is a 100 percent probability of flooding for 24-hour storms.
A drainage study would provide needed information to make a rational decision about the proposed developments on James Island, the report stated, and Emerman recommends no new developments be considered for the Central Park/Wambaw Creek watershed until a study is concluded.
Matthew Fountain, Charleston’s stormwater management director, said both proposed developments are at different stages of the permitting process. The Central Park development is further along and closer to meeting the city’s requirements to build.
Before getting the city’s approval to build, developers must run a 100-year water surface elevation analysis on the site.
“You have to run a hundred-year storm and show that you never increased the peak level of that water in that canal during the storm,” Fountain said.
Both proposed residential developments must pass a test showing they won’t cause new flooding in the surrounding community. The Riverland Oaks development falls under the city’s 2020 stormwater manual that contains more stringent standards, including stormwater volume control, Fountain said.
If developers meet all of the requirements, Fountain said, the city cannot prohibit them from building.
He said the city understands why the James Island residents feel the way they do about the proposed developments.
“They’re saying, ‘Hey our neighborhood floods,’ ” Fountain said. “And it does. We agree it has flooding problems. They’re saying, ‘We don’t like the risk of someone developing a site. What if it makes it worse?’ Because they’ve seen development occur in the area over the last few decades, and they’ve seen flooding get worse as people have developed.”
Fountain said that is why the city has passed more aggressive requirements and standards.
“The 2020 manual kind of doubles down on that, and it’s very aggressive and was very well supported at council for exactly these reasons,” Fountain said.
The newest stormwater manual essentially tells developers that if they want to build, they have to help fix areas that currently flood as part of the development cost, he said.
Charleston hired a firm to do a drainage improvement evaluation for the Central Park Basin. The evaluation work is done, but the design, permitting and construction for the recommended improvements would take several years to complete, Fountain said.
Whether improvements are complete before the proposed subdivisions are built would depend on the speed of the developers.