There's a lot to say about the proposed development of Cainhoy Plantation. Unfortunately, the developers have been doing most of the talking.
It is encouraging that they have agreed to widen the conversation to hear from more people whose insights and knowledge could help inform them and ensure that the best plan is adopted for the 9,000-acre tract of land.
City of Charleston Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Tim Keane said there will be two meetings on the subject on Jan. 8 and 9, both in Cainhoy. One will be a day-long workshop. The other will be an evening public hearing.
In addition, Joyce Green, a consultant, has been hired by the developer to facilitate some meetings with the community and serve as liaison between the community and the developers.
But it is far too early to breathe easy. As Coastal Conservation League land use project manager Jake Libaire said at a recent meeting of the Charleston Planning Commission, just meeting and listening aren't enough. The developers need to be willing to make appropriate adjustments to their plan, and to delay it as long as is necessary in doing so.
That isn't really an unreasonable request. A seasoned developer would know about projects like East Edisto south of Charleston, straddling Charleston and Dorchester counties. MeadWestvaco, the owners, spent several years and much energy meeting with different people in the community and various organizations. The ultimate development is considered a win-win. The developers are happy with the outcome, environmentalists believe it is a responsible use of the land, and taxpayers who would pay for infrastructure to serve the development were able to give their input.
Had MeadWestvaco insisted on sticking to a rigid schedule and pushing forward without community support, the outcome would not have been so successful.
Cainhoy Plantation is in many ways even more sensitive than the 78,000-acre East Edisto. It overlooks the Wando River and is adjacent to the Francis Marion National Forest and its extraordinary longleaf pines. It is the site of rich history going back hundreds of years and is the ancestral home of people who still live in the area. It is breathtakingly beautiful.
Developers say they are under pressure to develop their master plan quickly and get the zoning changed so that the Berkeley County School District can move forward with purchasing a parcel of the land for a much-needed new high school.
However, it is likely many students attending the high school will live at Cainhoy Plantation. It makes far more sense for the district to make plans incorporating accurate data about Cainhoy Plantation - data that can only be attained after the master plan is completed. Hurrying through that process could result in a disaster for the property, the community and its heritage and culture, the environment and the school district.
The resources that are at stake with the Cainhoy Plantation development are too valuable to address with a kiss and a promise. Community meetings are a good first step in what needs to be a long, careful journey to a final plan for Cainhoy Plantation.