AWENDAW -- Mayor Samuel Robinson speaks in a strong, assured voice about the bright future of this town where he was born and raised.
New water lines run along U.S. Highway 17. An office building rises not far from where a tractor supply store is planned. Fire hydrants are sprouting. Berkeley Electric will unveil plans for a new district office. Live music mecca Awendaw Green draws steady crowds. Dining, antique shopping and a nursery are part of the mix.
How continued growth will be managed, though, is an issue not only for Awendaw but the vast region that stretches from northern Mount Pleasant to the South Santee River near Georgetown.
The future of some 42,000 undeveloped acres is at stake. For that reason, a new panel has been assembled that is considering regional zoning standards to manage the competing interests that will shape the area.
Robinson is a member of the panel dubbed the Sewee to Santee Summit. It includes elected officials, conservationists and municipal planners. The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation brought the players to the table to talk about the region's future.
"It's so crucial," Robinson said of the panel's work. "There has to be growth but it should be planned and it should be respectful," he said.
A growth model based on current zoning projects that the region's existing population of 5,600 could swell to 45,000. Robinson said the panel's work is critical because development moving steadily north from Mount
Pleasant threatens what draws people to Awendaw, nestled in the Francis Marion National Forest near the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
"People move to a place like Awendaw for the peace, the tranquility," he said.
However, at the same time, Robinson noted, "If we don't grow, we literally die."
He anticipates that with the coming of the Boeing production plant in North Charleston, there will be more people inquiring about Awendaw as a place to live.
Ongoing construction to widen U.S. 17 in Mount Pleasant from four lanes to six lanes will significantly cut the commute time for Boeing workers, he said.
"I see Awendaw developing in some very interesting ways," he said.
The Sewee to Santee Summit revisits the idea of a cooperative effort to manage development around the Francis Marion National Forest. Several years ago, mayors of Mount Pleasant and Charleston called for a "blood pact" among municipalities to slow development around the forest. Awendaw, then under different leadership, opted out of the proposal, which died for lack of support.
Things are different today because Robinson strongly supports the regional approach to zoning.
"This is really a great tool. It needs to be adopted by each jurisdiction," he said.
That includes the Town of McClellanville and Charleston County.
"This is the best opportunity that this region has ever had to move something forward," said Charleston County Councilman Dickie Schweers of McClellanville.
A 10-member committee of the 40-member Sewee to Santee Summit has drafted The Francis Marion Standards, a list of suggested ways to manage development and preserve the character of the area. The proposal received generally favorable reviews at a recent meeting of summit members, but several in attendance said they needed more time to digest the ideas.
"I want to take this back to my council," said Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley expressed his support.
"It's something that I think is doable and really an excellent piece of work," he said.
When the panel completes its work, the new regional zoning "overlay district" will go to area planning commissions in October. Public hearings will be required before any official action on the measure.