The picnic table on Dawnita Hall's front lawn is a community gathering spot inside a growing North Charleston neighborhood that's being squeezed by new commercial development.

Hall's ice cream socials and midday lunches help preserve the residential feel of the multi-ethnic, multi-generational community that rests in between three main thoroughfares, two of which are growing commercial corridors in South Carolina's third-largest city.

"We have a nice pocket here," said Hall, a resident of Northwood Estates. "We're this wonderful, bedroom community."

For the most part, residents have managed to preserve that sense of community by successfully fighting rezoning requests and advocating for traffic safety measures.

But the area consisting mostly of the Deer Park and Northwood Estates neighborhoods, stretching between University Boulevard, Interstate 26 and Rivers Avenue, is still concerned about what continued development could mean for their neighborhood streets, which cars and 18-wheelers already use as cut-throughs.

Many changes

When Betty Cook moved to Dantzler Drive in 1965, her home sat on a dirt road with no businesses nearby. North Charleston hadn't even incorporated as a city.

But as the population grew across the tri-county region over the following decades, commercial development soon found its way near growing subdivisions.

Today, medical offices, car dealerships, gas stations, storage facilities and restaurants sit on the fringes of the residential pouch that boasts more than 2,000 homes. Some trees and a wooden fence separate one Datnzler Drive home from a health facility. 

Councilwoman Virginia Jamison, who's lived in Northwood Estates for three decades, has witnessed the changes. She has long fought to address livability concerns in the area, including efforts to establish a noise wall in between I-26 and the neighborhood.

"What was a very nicely populated area, has now become the perfect place for commercial growth," Jamison said.

Jamison, as well as other residents, aren't opposed to the growth. Drawing comparisons to other North Charleston communities, such as Park Circle where commercial and residential coexist, many residents enjoy having restaurants and other businesses close by.

Cook, whose Dantzler Drive home is within walking distance of East Bay Deli, frequents the restaurant and also receives medical treatment at a facility around the corner.

"It's a nice place because you've got everything you need," she said.

But many residents feel that commercial encroachment has come far enough in their neighborhood, and they have kept busy safeguarding their residential feel, mainly by fighting against commercial rezoning requests.

And they've been successful, at least so far.

'Can't stop progress'

Five requests to rezone properties from residential to commercial inside Deer Park were denied in the past year after community residents pushed back.

One recent request included a home on Dantzler Drive where the owner has repeatedly tried to have the property rezoned neighborhood commercial.  

Community leaders plan to oppose any future attempts to bring more commercial development inside their neighborhoods.

"You cant stop progress," said Lou Baker, president of the Deer Park Civic League. "We understand that. But you have to take the time that and say 'This is a residential area' and we have to preserve that.”

Residents also say the infrastructure has not kept pace with new development. Greenridge and Otranto roads are regularly backed up during morning rush hour. Several neighborhood streets often are used by commuters as shortcuts, which residents said has become a safety issue because these streets also lack sidewalks.

Though Interstate 26 has expanded over the years, a sound-barrier still has not been constructed between it and Northwood Estates, where residents have felt a growing sense of frustration over the increased amount of noise. The S.C. Department of Transportation recently said a noise wall project is not feasible there.

Charleston County is currently conducting its own noise study in Northwood Estates and could apply for federal grants to build a wall.

Meanwhile, new development is set to bring more traffic to the area. Land already has been cleared to add 50 new residences at Otranto Road, and the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority recently broke ground on a new park-n-ride lot on Melnick Drive. 

The city has responded in some ways to mitigate concerns by recently installing signs to deter 18-wheelers from using residential streets. There are also plans for the city to install several speed humps within the area to deter speeding.

The city's police department conducted a traffic study last year, which found that 2,000 cars commute daily on Shadow Lane with more than 85 percent going almost 15 mph over the 25 mph speed limit.

Residents and city officials said the area still needs walking paths and increased police patrols for traffic enforcement. 

Jamison said that the community must continue to speak out in order to shape its future. One crucial opportunity will be participating in the city's 10-year comprehensive development plan scheduled for viewing later this year.

"I hope that the input that was given by these communities would be adhered to," she said. "I feel that the city is listening, but we must continue to be that strong movement that some of the other communities do not have."

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