SUMMERVILLE -- The 900-home plan for Watson Hill that MeadWestvaco shows at community meetings isn't a blueprint yet for the controversial development in the Ashley River historic district.
It isn't necessarily (what will be built)," said Ken Seeger, president of the company's community development and land management group. "It's something to get a reaction to from the community."
The company's plan for Watson Hill is being closely watched by community members and conservation groups in the wake of public outrage over an earlier developer's plan to build as many as 5,000 houses and hotel rooms around a golf course. The property sits along S.C. Highway 61, just past the winding stretch of live oaks and Colonial plantations.
A development that dense along the scenic, historic byway ignited public outrage and led to the company buying back its former timberland with a promise of development more in line with those historic environs.
The current plan being shown calls for 900-1,000 homes in a mix of large lots and urban-style "clustered" development with open space. It's one of three or four options MeadWestvaco planners are looking at now, Seeger said. Among the others are a mix of large-lot and small-lot plantations or strictly clustered development with jointly owned open spaces.
The company is using that option because it tracks with what's called for in the Dorchester County historic overlay plan, something that people in earlier public meetings said they would like to see.
"We just can't say what's going to be attractive in today's market," Seeger said. The company expects to have preliminary plans for the 6,600-acre tract by the end of the year as part of the East Edisto master plan. East Edisto is the massive 72,000-acre tract running south of Watson Hill to the Edisto River. "It's just our desires to come up with a win-win solution."
The two properties combined constitute about one-fifth of Dorchester County.
Still to be resolved are concerns over the load of traffic that a developed Watson Hill would put onto S.C. 61, the scenic Ashley River road. Regional transportation and county plans call for an extension of the Glenn McConnell Parkway from West Ashley to S.C. Highway 165 west of the developments. But conservation groups are concerned for that road's impact on wetland areas around Rantowles Creek.
"It looks like a thoughtful development to date. There's going to be more to do and in so many things, the devil is in the details. But right now we feel optimistic," said George McDaniel, executive director of the historic Drayton Hall plantation site on the Ashley River Road. "We're watching."