CAINHOY — Taxpayers are spending a quarter-billion dollars to build schools, widen roads and construct a larger bridge to this once-sleepy rural peninsula, where an up to 18,000-home development — the largest yet in the Charleston area — is coming to life.
Some residents here are looking forward to new Berkeley County schools, and to having more places nearby to shop and dine, but they can’t imagine how the area will handle the potential traffic.
Development of the 9,087-acre Cainhoy Plantation property could result in a city-sized community with as many as 45,000 residents, more than Goose Creek or Sumter. Among South Carolina’s 270 towns and cities, only seven have a population that large.
As with other huge, master-planned communities such as Daniel Island, it could take decades for the development to build out, transforming expanses of woods and fields into what Matt Sloan, president of the Daniel Island Co., describes as “the last borough of the city of Charleston.”
Cainhoy Plantation is the largest of at least a dozen mega-developments with 2,000 homes or more than have been approved across the tri-county Charleston metro area, all bringing a mix of benefits and challenges to the surrounding communities.
Sloan is leading the Cainhoy development as well as the ongoing development of Daniel Island, which already has about 5,500 homes and expects to add another 1,000 or so. In both cases, the land was owned by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.
The maximum number of homes allowed at Cainhoy Plantation may not be built, as is often the case with large master-planned communities, but building even half of them would create one of the largest developments in the tri-county Charleston metro area.
The former plantation was used during the 20th century for timber and hunting, and sits between two fast-growing areas; Daniel Island to the south, and Mount Pleasant’s S.C. Highway 41 corridor to the east, just across the Wando River. The Cainhoy area has already seen significant but smaller residential developments including Nelliefield Plantation, The Peninsula, Beresford Hall and River Reach Pointe.
Clements Ferry Road runs through it all, connecting to Highway 41 near the Wando River to form a two-lane-wide asphalt ribbon that connects U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant to Interstate 526 near Daniel Island. Cainhoy Plantation sits in the middle, straddling Clements Ferry Road.
Cainhoy residents have been adjusting to the trade-offs development brings.
“We highly anticipate the schools because our kids will be able to get a better education,” said Fred Lincoln, a lifelong Cainhoy resident and community leader who said his ancestors worked at Cainhoy Plantation, as slaves.
Not far from ruins of a three-room school house along Clements Ferry Road where Lincoln attended classes as a child, near what is now Nelliefield Plantation, the Berkeley County School District is building a $36 million elementary and middle school complex, and a $69 million high school.
“This fall, we will open the elementary school and middle school,” said Deon Jackson, the district’s chief administrative officer. “In 2017, we will also open Philip Simmons High School.”
Both schools are on land purchased from Cainhoy Plantation, and sit within the development area.
“The (Cainhoy) community will have K-12 grades in place day one which will immediately make this property a great place to raise a family,” said Sloan.
Jackson said the new schools are “an opportunity for us to get out ahead of some growth” while meeting more immediate school-crowding issues.
Nelliefield Plantation resident Lisa Kerns is a member of the homeowners association and PTA president for the new middle school. She said community residents hope to connect Nelliefield to the new schools and Cainhoy Plantation, with walking and biking trails.
“We’re excited to see what that development will bring to this community,” said Kerns, who grew up on Sullivan’s Island and was among the first Nelliefield homeowners eight years ago. “This community has waited a long time for development, and progress.”
The school district’s Daniel Island School, with students in Kindergarten through eighth grade, was built a decade ago and holds 200 more students than the 1,200 it was designed to accommodate. Kerns said it can take an hour to get there, though it’s only 9 miles from her house, because of morning traffic on Clements Ferry Road.
Meanwhile, public high school students from Daniel Island and the Cainhoy peninsula currently travel the interstate across the Don Holt Bridge to attend Hanahan High School. Those living closer to Huger face an even longer trip to Timberland High School, near St. Stephen.
The new schools will relieve crowding for a time and put schools near the students they serve, but the Cainhoy area’s other overcrowding issue — roads — will prove more difficult to fix.
“I plan my day to avoid the traffic,” said Lincoln. “Every day, it’s a slow walk. Nobody gets out of here.”
From Interstate 526 at the south end to Highway 41 at the north end, the entire peninsula is served by a single two-lane road, Clements Ferry. Getting off the peninsula means crossing the Wando River on Highway 41 — another traffic-choked two-lane road — or getting on I-526 via a single-lane on-ramp.
At 5 p.m. on a recent weekday, traffic backed up Clements Ferry Road from the interstate on-ramp for four miles.
Last fall, Kerns launched a Facebook group called Clements Ferry Residents For Safer Roads, which had 400 members by the end of the first day. Participants gripe about traffic and post updates about road-widening plans.
“Our concern is that by the time we get this growth, and get the road widened, then we’ll need six lanes instead of four,” Kerns said.
The Mark Clark Expressway, I-526, connected Daniel Island and the Cainhoy peninsula to Mount Pleasant and North Charleston in 1992, opening the area to development. Daniel Island was annexed into the city of Charleston, and a master plan was created allowing for 7,500 homes. Most of Cainhoy was annexed, as well.
“No one has figured out how all these people are going to move through the community,” Lincoln said. “If you made Clements Ferry Road 10 lanes, there’s still only one lane going onto the Mark Clark.”
For now, Berkeley County and the S.C. Department of Transportation are working to widen Clements Ferry Road to four lanes. The project is expected to cost $82.6 million, with the second phase, from Jack Primus Road to Highway 41, to be finished in 2021.
“It’s catching up with what’s needed now,” Lincoln said.
Across the Wando River, Mount Pleasant is seeking $129 million to widen Highway 41 from two to four lanes. Add that to the public money being spent to replace the Highway 41 bridge over the Wando River with a taller, wider one, and the cost of widening Clements Ferry Road, and the task of expanding to four lanes that ribbon of asphalt could exceed $270 million.
“We’re very aware of (Cainhoy Plantation), but we can’t control it,” Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page said. “It does make us push harder with our state representatives for highway funding.”
“Those people will need to shop, and eat,” she said. “I assume a lot of those people will be using services in Mount Pleasant.”
Public services will also be needed. Charleston already is planning for a fire station in the Cainhoy area, while Berkeley County is in the early stages of working with the developer on needs such as a location for an emergency medical services crew, county spokesman Michael Mule said.
Josh Martin, special advisor to Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and the city’s former planning director, said Cainhoy is “an area of the city that does not perhaps have the most robust infrastructure.”
The scope of Cainhoy Plantation is enormous, an area larger than the Charleston peninsula and Daniel Island combined. The property extends from the Cooper River to the Wando River, and the edge of the Francis Marion National Forest.
Over centuries the land has been home to American Indians, colonial-era plantations and small modern settlements, all of which raise questions about cultural and archeological resources. Conservation groups including Coastal Conservation League have aired concerns about the impact of development on wildlife and the natural environment.
The development agreement approved by the city of Charleston in 2014 requires open space and wildlife corridors. More than 3,000 acres of the property are wetlands or marsh.
Sloan said a “detailed wetland, environmental and cultural resource analyses for the entire property” is underway and will be done before a development timeline is laid out.
“It’s a huge amount of work given the scale, and the owners of Cainhoy take their stewardship role of this property very seriously,” he said.
A different type of concern about the development was raised in 2014 by the BP corporation, which operates a chemical plant on the Cooper River just above the Cainhoy Plantation property.
“Simply stated, in our view it is not prudent to create residential development right next door to a chemical plant,” Mark Fitts, plant manager of the Cooper River Plant said in The Post and Courier in 2014, the year BP sued to block some aspects of the development.
The suit was later withdrawn “based on an agreement between the two parties,” said BP America Director of Media Relations Michael Abendhoff, who would not provide details.
Several historic black communities abut the Cainhoy Plantation property, and in a provision uncommon in the Charleston area, the development plan sets aside 155 acres for the Jack Primus and Huger communities to expand. A church and cemeteries on the property would also be protected.
The development agreement calls for “persistent and professional efforts” to achieve at least 10 percent affordable housing, of various types.
“The master plan is designed to encourage a number of different housing types, in terms of affordability,” said Martin.
With schools under construction, roads being widened, and both the city and county working on location planning for emergency services, the Cainhoy Plantation development is getting underway. More details are expected late this year.
“It’s the right place for responsible growth,” Sloan said, “and that’s what we’re working to achieve.”
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.