MeadWestvaco plan transforms East Edisto land into antebellum neighborhoods

Charleston Regional Business Journal
Molly Parker
December 10, 2009

MeadWestvaco executives have unveiled what the company calls a conservation-inspired master plan for the 78,600-acre East Edisto tract.

The property, timberland that served MeadWestvaco’s paper mill for years, borders the eastern edge of the Edisto River and spans Charleston and Dorchester counties.

The plan for the land envisions clusters of antebellum communities where people could walk down a main street, do window shopping, buy produce from the market, run into neighbors and friends and duck into a nearby diner for a glass of sweet tea.

Developers laid out the vision at noon today before a packed crowd at the Sheraton Hotel in North Charleston. A soundtrack of outdoor sounds played in the background as slides showing renderings of happy and active residents flashed on a projector screen.

“These are places where people can live, work, learn and shop in close proximity,” said Ken Seeger, president of MeadWestvaco’s Community Development and Land Management Group.

The blueprint calls for preservation of 75% of the property as largely undeveloped green space that could be used for farming, hiking, biking, hunting, fishing and sparse development. The other quarter of the property is slated for a cluster of small towns separated by green space and intertwined with walking trails and parks.

Those communities will include educational and work opportunities and a range of housing types, Seeger said. The project is slated for two industrial parks, one each in Dorchester and Charleston counties.

The master plan has been two years in the making and could take up to 50 years to complete, depending on the market. It was formulated after 18 public meetings and with input from more than 1,000 people, Seeger said.

That input led to what Seeger called the four key cornerstones of the project:
Retain the rural character of the land.
Practice environmental stewardship.
Build sustainable communities.
Provide for educational and employment opportunities.

“The story of East Edisto is a story of stewardship,” said Paul Milana of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, the leading design firm for the project.

Milana said the plan calls for towns fashioned similarly to neighborhoods in Summerville and historic Charleston; villages that look like Mount Pleasant’s Old Village; and “corners” built in the likeness of those in Rockville and Adams Run.

As an example, Milana said the Pine Hill village center would be accessible from the highway but set back far enough to retain its character and charm. It would have main street shops with apartments and offices overhead. Down the side streets would be apartments, condos and compact living quarters. Neighborhoods would be farther out. A K-12 school and Trident Technical College would bookend the community.

This type of development “puts all the parts of our lives closer to one another,” Milana said.

Though Watson Hill was never mentioned by name in the presentation, the planned East Edisto community also takes in that controversial 6,600-acre tract, which MeadWestvaco brought back into its portfolio this summer after selling the land for development in 2004.

In the hands of other ownership, that parcel became the source of a contentious annexation battle — and a lawsuit regarding public notice procedures — because of a difference of opinion between North Charleston and Summerville over how the property should be zoned.

North Charleston leaders were calling for more homes than were Dorchester leaders. MeadWestvaco purchased the land back after Principal Commercial Acceptance LLC foreclosed on previous owner Richard Lam’s $28.6 million loan.

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