Expected flood of development launched regional planning effort (copy)

Cane Bay Plantation in Berkeley County already has thousands of residents, and will be home to several thousand more when completed. 

If a large parcel of land in Berkeley County that recently sold to a developer for just over $25 million were to be fully built out, it would be part of an area as big as some of the larger municipalities in South Carolina.

If developers of that tract along with the adjacent Cane Bay neighborhood were to eventually build the maximum allowable number of residences with an average household of just two people, it would be the 13th largest unincorporated “town” in South Carolina, just behind Goose Creek and slightly ahead of Aiken.

But unlike Goose Creek and Aiken, the small town-size development on the so-called Wildcat tract will not likely have its own fire, police or emergency departments. It won’t have a stormwater management team or town planning staff.

Aside from a few shops and restaurants, a grocery store and some offices, there won’t likely be a commercial component that would be comparable to a self-sustaining town.

All of those new single-family homes will put burdens on nearby schools but, because of the quirks of South Carolina law, won’t help pay for the additional operating costs new students will create.

And while developers will pay impact fees and help fund new roads and other infrastructure necessary to facilitate thousands of new homes, Berkeley County residents will be left on the hook for the maintenance costs of all that new stuff — in perpetuity.

In other words, this is a net loss for Berkeley County, and county officials must work to ensure that future developments — particularly those that are the size of a modest city — make sustainability more of a priority.

Looking purely at the numbers, this might seem counterintuitive. The Berkeley County School District got a $30 million budget boost this year based almost entirely on the county’s explosive growth, for example.

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At the same time, the school district has recently had to shuffle students around due to overcrowded schools that are just a few years old, which suggests that there are plenty of long-term costs like building new facilities that could eventually put a damper on the budget bonanza.

Cane Bay residents, similarly, have had to fund a part-time emergency team because the response times from the nearest facilities — some homes are several miles away from the nearest entrance to the neighborhood — were dangerously long.

There are a lot of ways that Berkeley County could demand more responsible development. Asking for a more balanced mix of residential and commercial growth, planning for a better mix of transportation options and zoning for hubs of density that could help subsidize more traditional suburbia would all help.

But the basic concern is that communities are being built in Berkeley County that are the size of cities without most of the amenities and structures that make cities function. It’s a development pattern that ignores millennia of accumulated knowledge about how society can live and function in close proximity.

This is an unnecessary risk and one that leaves Berkeley County taxpayers not just financially vulnerable but at risk of a lower quality of living in the future.