HANAHAN — This city lacks a traditional downtown but has relied on other ways to create a sense of community. Those ways are expected to be tested soon by rapid growth and a wave of new leaders.
Residents of the Charleston-area bedroom community have worked to keep their city a place where children ride their bikes to school and where hundreds turn out for a fundraising softball game between police officers and firefighters.
Self-taught landscapers compliment each other's well-manicured lawns — and compete for Yard of the Month. Seniors motor around in golf carts, offering a helping hand to homeowners and advice to young parents exercising with their children and dogs.
Families rally around the schools, filling seats at athletic events and student performances. Friendships are forged over sideline chats while watching the young at practice and at games.
"You end up getting to know people through the schools, the plays, at the ball fields,” said Joel Hodges, who has served on Hanahan City Council for 14 years. “You feel like you know about everybody. Hanahan still has that small-town feel even though it’s surrounded by the big city.”
It was named the safest city in the state in 2016 and is in the Top 10 regularly.
In most ways, the Berkeley County enclave feels more like a rural town, despite being in the middle of one of South Carolina's metro areas. While many Lowcountry residents lament the loss of character of their Southern surroundings, Hanahan embraces and retains a slower pace.
It’s a new city, formed in 1973 largely as a defense against being gobbled up by North Charleston, which gained its cityhood a year earlier and immediately set off on an aggressive annexation effort.
The city is hemmed in on all sides, caught in a tight hug between North Charleston on the west and south and Goose Creek to its north and east. It takes up about 11 square miles of land.
"I like to say it’s 15 minutes from everywhere,” said real estate agent and City Councilman Michael Sally.
That's part of the draw for residents like Amanda Taylor.
"People always say Hanahan is a bedroom community,” she said. “It may be true that a lot of people work outside of Hanahan, but once you get home it’s a great community to live in. It’s safe, people are friendly, we have lots of offerings. Hanahan has everything.”
Despite its constrained borders, Hanahan is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, adding 1,552 residents in the 12-month period that ended in July 2017, bringing the population to 24,885, according to census estimates.
The city grew by 38 percent from 2010 — when the population was just more than 18,000 — to mid-2017, according to the Census Bureau. By comparison, during that same time, bustling Mount Pleasant grew 28 percent.
Its 6.7 percent rate of growth was the largest in the Lowcountry last year and the third highest in the state.
Some of Hanahan’s increase is from new growth in Tanner Plantation, which has been under construction since about 2000. But the inventory of open lots in the 650-acre master planned community is shrinking, officials said.
“Our growth will slow down and then the focus will need to be on redevelopment,” said Councilwoman Christie Rainwater.
While it has grown, Hanahan has managed to maintain its tight-knit atmosphere. It didn't incorporate as a city until 1973, but its roots go back generations earlier.
The city takes its name from the late Ross Hanahan, an early leader of Charleston's Commissioners of Public Works (now the Charleston Water System). He oversaw construction of the water treatment plant here, which currently serves most of the Charleston metro area and also bears Hanahan's name.
Today, people are drawn to the affordable houses, great schools and recreation programs, said City Administrator Johnny Cribb said.
Rainwater said she was recently at a conference where participants were asked to talk about a landmark in their hometown. She couldn’t think of a specific landmark.
Instead, she said, “It was so hard for me to think of anything but our people. Our people are amazing. Where else do you get affordable houses, amazing people and an amazing school system? That’s just rare.”
Some people see the new amphitheater on the Goose Creek Reservoir as Hanahan’s landmark. Opened in 2013, it has become a top destination for family events such as festivals and movies in the park.
Others point out the relatively new county library branch — designed to mimic a train depot — or the modern City Hall near the small commercial district anchored by a Piggly Wiggly and specialty shops.
Houses are more expensive here than in Goose Creek and North Charleston, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, but less than in Charleston County. The average home sales price in Hanahan this year through July is $261,209, compared with $244,955 in Goose Creek and $206,664 in North Charleston.
From tidy, affordable starter homes built around World War II to palatial houses in tony neighborhoods on creeks that feed into the Cooper River, there are attractive alternatives for buyers looking to stretch a dollar.
New leadership on every level
It’s hard to predict if Hanahan will be able to hold on to its tight-knit, small-town feel as growth continues and as it faces a seismic changing of the guard in the next year — losing its longtime mayor, city administrator and the principal of the local high school, who has been there for more than two decades.
After 19 years as mayor, Minnie Newman will preside over her last City Council meeting at the end of the year, and Cribb, the city administrator, will pack up his office to take the helm as supervisor for Berkeley County, a post he won in the June Republican Primary.
“We’re leaving this city in great shape,” said Cribb, who has managed the city for a decade.
Hanahan has an annual budget of just under $11 million and has $13 million in savings.
It’s about to embark on an ambitious 53-acre park project on land it recently acquired from the federal government, with plans to pay for the fields and trails upfront. And it's working with the Army Corps of Engineers to figure out why some low-lying areas have been flooding recently.
"Mayor Minnie," as she is known, isn't seeking re-election to the post she's held for 19 years.
Two current council members are vying to become the municipality’s next leader: Hodges, the 14-year veteran of council, and Rainwater, who was elected in 2016.
But it’s not likely to be a campaign season with mud-slinging or negative campaigning.
“We’re friends,” Rainwater said. “It’s not going to get ugly. If he wins, I’m happy to serve under him, and if I win, he’s happy to serve under me. We’re just two people who love their city.”
Another change this year is at the city’s high school, which is getting a new principal after the retirement of Ric Raycroft, who spent most of his 25 years in education at the school.
Hanahan residents “clearly and passionately” told Berkeley County School District what they wanted in Raycroft’s successor, said Superintendent Eddie Ingram.
Residents said they are pleased with the selection of Tom Gallus, who started his career as a physical education teacher and coach at Hanahan High School in 2003 but spent the past four years as assistant principal at Berkeley High.
"I am excited to be working at the school I love," Gallus said after his introduction at a council meeting last week. “Hanahan is a great place because of the community. One of my goals (for the school) is to be a bigger part of the community. Being a small city like Hanahan, I think it’s important to have the community support, but it goes hand in hand.”
Despite the influx of new residents, history will likely hold in this oasis in the metro. The churches, lodges and modest homes on streets lined with magnolias, palmettos and live oaks will remain, the quiet interrupted only by the hundred cheering on the sidelines of Friday night's high school football game.