North Charleston City Council made a slight change Thursday in its plans to cross the Ashley River to annex a historic plantation site, and in doing so gained the support of conservationists.
At a special meeting, council amended a bill to annex 113 acres on S.C. Highway 61 that includes Runnymede Plantation, a venue for weddings and other events, under an agricultural zoning.
Like many of its neighbors along the river, Runnymede’s mansion house was burned by Union troops during the Civil War. A house later built by Charles C. Pinckney burned in 2002.
The site is three tracts, two owned by the William Whitfield Trust and the third owned by Whitfield Construction, according to Charleston County property tax records.
In its initial reading last week, a 14-acre piece of the tract was to be designated as general business to accommodate the event business, worrying neighbors Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall about what could happen in the future.
The city amended the original bill Thursday to align with the land’s existing zoning in Charleston County, said North Charleston project manager Adam MacConnell. The designation does not specify a use for events, but the city’s Planning Department is preparing an ordinance that will specifically allow for such uses, he said.
That was good enough for the Coastal Conservation League, land-use program director Jason Crowley said.
"We couldn’t fight the annexation, so we are satisfied that they changed the zoning to match the current zoning in the area," he said. "After Watson Hill, we knew that there were no legal options to stop the annexation."
When the city first jumped over the Ashley River in 2004 to annex the 6,600-acre Watson Hill tract, it led to a years-long tug of war between Charleston, North Charleston, Summerville and Dorchester County that included a series of lawsuits from landowners and conservationist groups.
Crowley said he hopes now Charleston, North Charleston and Charleston County will consider signing an intergovernmental agreement not to extend any farther into the Ashley River Historic District, the 12-mile stretch of Highway 61 from Church Creek to Bacons Bridge Road.
The area is consistently under threat because of its position on the suburban edges of the region and the fact that it straddles several municipal jurisdictions, according to the Historic Charleston Foundation.
Mayor Keith Summey said he has been speaking with the landowner about annexing for a decade.
Whitfield Construction has a large land holding in Charleston County, according to records, including 2,243 acres across the highway from Runnymede, and several parcels in and around the West Ashley Circle and along Bees Ferry Road, Glenn McConnell Parkway and Highway 61.
"If we get enough (land) over there, we can set us up a nice police substation and fire station," Summey said.
Currently, the nearest fire station is more than 10 miles away and the nearest police station is 12 miles, but the city has mutual aid agreements that would protect the site.
"We are not going to do anything that’s going to be detrimental to people who are invested over there or live over there," Summey said. "I want people to remember, we are the only people who have gone in and set a buffer on the Ashley River across from all the historic sites. We did that as protection of those properties, which hurt some people that had land on that side, but we thought it was the right thing to do."
The bill is set to get its final reading at a council meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in council chambers at 2500 City Hall Lane.
"Every city always looks for an opportunity for growth," Summey said. "It makes me feel really good to know we’ve got another plantation site in the city of North Charleston."
Councilman Bob King cast the lone vote against the annexation amendment, saying, "We’ve had a hard time trying to service the things we already have. We’ve got all we can take care of."