Off the beaten path...Cainhoy Plantation charts new course
(Editor’s Note: This story is part 1 in a series of articles The Daniel Island News is preparing on the new Cainhoy Plantation community, a 9,000 acre tract that is now in its beginning stages of development. In future issues, we will explore the environmental factors influencing planning for the site, including new details on a proposed 500-acre conservation sanctuary to be located in the heart of the new community, as well as other topics related to the project.)
The late Harry Frank Guggenheim reportedly once noted that of all the places he was able to go in his lifetime, Cainhoy Plantation was his favorite.
Today, the vast swath of land that he loved, all 9,000 acres of it, remains largely the same as when he first purchased it for recreational use, farming and timber production in the 1930s - a verdant eco-rich wonder sprinkled with forests of loblolly and longleaf pines, pristine wetlands, towering ancient live oaks, Colonial-era trails, and breathtaking views of tidal creeks and rivers.
In the decades that followed, Guggenheim often spent time here with his family, friends and business associates - including famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and World War II general James Doolittle - hunting, celebrating the holidays at the plantation’s lodge, and enjoying the outdoors.
His younger cousin, Peter Lawson-Johnston Sr., inherited the property in the form of a lifetime family trust after Guggenheim’s passing in 1971. The mammoth parcel, which spans from the Wando River to the Cooper River on the Cainhoy Peninsula and borders the Francis Marion National Forest on its northeastern side, remains in the Lawson-Johnston family today.
Like Guggenheim, Peter, his wife, Dede, and their children and grandchildren have also cherished this tucked away place on the edge of Charleston’s urban growth boundary. More than 80 years after Guggenheim first called this land his own, the hustle and bustle of life still seems a world away from the recesses of the quiet plantation, as cars and trucks move to and from along its central core on the burgeoning Clements Ferry Road.
And it may have stayed that way, at least a little longer. But the community’s needs soon took precedence. The Berkeley County School District’s desperate plea for space to better serve students on Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula did not fall on deaf ears among Lawson-Johnston family members, who were approached in 2009 by then Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to see if they could help. The family ultimately provided the land to build three new schools - Philip Simmons Elementary, Middle and High Schools - all of which are now serving students. Knowing new schools, growth in the Charleston region as a whole, and other infrastructure developments would bring new families seeking housing and services, the Lawson-Johnstons decided the time had come to develop their beloved property.
The family knew members of the development team at the Daniel Island Company well - as the company created the present day Daniel Island community on land formerly owned by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, which funded the island’s original master planning. A separate entity, known as the DI Development Company, headed by Daniel Island Company President Matt Sloan, has been tasked with managing the creation of the new community.
“This is where smart growth needs to occur,” said Sloan, citing the area’s unique location in the heart of the Lowcountry. “Not out in rural Dorchester County, 40 miles away from anything. All of the investment is here.”
“Another big reason why this area is the logical place for growth is just the amount of infrastructure spending in the entire region by others,” added Carolyn Lancaster, vice president of marketing for the DI Development Company. “In excess of $250 million has been committed by city, county and the state in terms of schools here, the roads, the bridges, water and sewer, public safety and all of those things…There were a lot of different requests by the government, requests for land, space for biking, places to bury transmission lines. That was really the catalyst to get things moving.”
According to Sloan, the family hopes to preserve much of the property’s character in its upcoming incarnation as one of the region’s largest and most innovative, conservation- and recreation-minded developments.
“We use the word ‘steward’ in talking about the family’s ownership,” said Sloan, while providing a recent tour of the property to The Daniel Island News. “They have treasured it.”
Sloan first began working with the Guggenheim family in the 1990s, when he was hired to join the team overseeing the development of Daniel Island, and has represented the family’s interests in the Charleston area ever since.
“When I started working at the foundation, their mindset was…let’s let Daniel Island be as successful as it can be and maybe that will lay out some value to the future holding in Cainhoy,” he said.
Plans for the creation of a planned unit development (PUD) at Cainhoy Plantation first went public in 2013, when the project was brought into the City of Charleston approval process pipeline. The developers asked for and received approval for a special zoning designation, as opposed to the previous general zoning, to allow them to create mixed use development within the plantation tract, similar to what is found in the Daniel Island community.
“(Former Mayor Riley) saw this as a connection point between Mount Pleasant and Charleston,” said Sloan. “…When it was brought to the city there was no definitive plans for what to do. It was given a very broad category for zoning. Which was the equivalent of Berkeley County circa 1995, which meant you could do anything you wanted, wherever you wanted…And we did not view that as a positive way to develop the community, particularly if large tracts are sold off to others. There is just a lack of control. We felt like it would lead to controversy, so we wrote an entirely new zoning code that is unique to this property.”
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW…
In the years that have followed, the development team has continued to solicit feedback from local stakeholders, conducting outreach to about 650 people throughout the process, said Sloan. They have also continued to meet with City of Charleston planners (who added Cainhoy Plantation to the city’s comprehensive regional growth plan in 2010) and others to fine tune the scope of the massive project.
One example of an adjustment made to early plans is the anticipated density of the development. The PUD was originally approved for 18,000 homes, making it the most sizable master plan to ever come before the City of Charleston. At public hearings in 2013 and 2014, scores of community members voiced concerns about the daunting number, citing worsening traffic congestion on Clements Ferry Road and overall worries about what such a large scale project could do to the charm and character of the Cainhoy community. Today, the goal is to create half that amount, said Sloan, with over 50 percent of the property remaining undeveloped.
“We’re not going back to the city to go through that process again,” he added. “…We don’t see building any more than 9,000 homes. That includes apartments and condos and things like that. Even that 9,000 is probably on the high side.”
Another issue expressed by members of the public in the planning process was a lack of services in the region, something Cainhoy Plantation developers are working to address.
“One common denominator that came up from people at all different levels of socioeconomic strata was access to services, access to retail, access to home improvement facilities…access to employment centers,” said Sloan. “…It’s kind of a retail desert out here. There is relatively no retail. No dry cleaners. No bank. That’s all getting ready to change.”
Sloan and his team recently announced that a Publix grocery store would take the anchor position in a new shopping center planned near the intersection of Point Hope Parkway and Clements Ferry Road, at the entrance to the first phase of the Cainhoy Plantation development. A new apartment community is also in the works there, the first multi-family residential complex to rise on the site. A short distance down Clements Ferry Road, a new hardware store is set to open in the spring of 2018.
“I remember when there was absolutely nothing here,” added Sloan, while traversing the Clements Ferry Road corridor. “This is becoming a whole center of activity…So when we’ve been out pitching and trying to talk to commercial users we’re able to point to some pretty good indicators. While Cainhoy is somewhat of a green field at the moment, this area is not…The Cainhoy Peninsula is quite established, but it hasn’t been given its due and it hasn’t had the type of investment that is to come.”
The developers also heeded a request from citizens to eliminate a line of commercial/light industrial frontage planned along Cainhoy Road, which separates the property from the Francis Marion National Forest. Much of it is now slated to be a buffer of green space along the northern edge of the development.
“That was a big ask of the community,” added Sloan, gesturing towards the area in question. “This is untouched and it will stay untouched. It was a big thing for the Guggenheim ownership to give that up. This is really valuable land…But Cainhoy Road is the gateway to the national forest and it’s by and large pristine land…What they were hoping for was that the experience of entering the national forest 15 years from now is what you have today, which, again, is largely pristine with a few outparcels. So this all stays green.”
The issue of affordable housing was also taken into consideration, said Sloan, based on feedback received from a number of local citizens, including Cainhoy area resident Fred Lincoln, whose family has lived in the Jack Primus community for generations. According to Lancaster, the Cainhoy Master Plan has a 10 percent affordable housing goal and the development team is presently working with the City of Charleston and non-profit affordable housing developers to fulfill this objective. One project being explored is a Habitat for Humanity partnership, added Sloan.
“What I’m hoping to do is…work with East Cooper Habitat on a piece of property here where they can begin to make a neighborhood happen,” he said. “I’ve met with them and they’re interested.”
Sloan and his associates also negotiated with SCE&G to have transmission lines buried on the overall parcel, as they are on Daniel Island, to add to the area’s aesthetic appeal.
“We offered to give SCE&G all of the land that they need within our property,” he said. “We’re still working on that final alignment.”
In addition, they have also donated right-of-way lands to the S.C. Department of Transportation and Berkeley County to use in the widening of Clements Ferry Road, in the area it crosses over the plantation property. An estimated 20,000 passenger trips a day take place on the vital commuting corridor. The expansion project, which will create additional lanes and a recreational path along the busy thoroughfare, is now in its first phase of construction - with expected completion of the entire stretch by 2021.
Some four years after the PUD was first introduced, plans are well underway now to keep the project on track. The development team is about to start the environmental permitting stage, after conducting important studies of natural and cultural resources, said Sloan. And a subdivision plan for the first residential neighborhood, to be located adjacent to the Philip Simmons Schools, is currently in the engineering and design phase. That initial housing enclave is expected to include about 200 properties.
“This neighborhood could be ready for a ground break on site work by early next year,” added Sloan. “Which means families would have an opportunity to begin thinking about housing options in the near future…This is in a great location. It is kind of the epicenter of this property. It will be the spot where the greatest number of kids can walk and ride their bikes (to school).”
So, in the midst of encroaching urban sprawl, the mostly unspoiled lands of Cainhoy Plantation rest for now, as progress beckons on the horizon. During his lifetime, Harry Frank Guggenheim sought to infuse strong core values, such as innovation, integrity, excellence, and stewardship, into all of his endeavors, noted Lancaster. Developers hope to integrate those same principles into the Cainhoy Plantation project, she added. The community is expected to take decades to complete, ultimately making an area that has been largely private for almost a century open and accessible to all.
“Very few people get to come out here and do anything,” added Sloan. “Now you’ve got 9,000 acres in the middle of everything that is getting ready to become totally public.”
And in the end, both the Lawson-Johnston family and those carrying out the plan for the property’s evolution are hopeful the finished product will be something Guggenheim would have been proud to see come to fruition.