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Cainhoy Plantation plan presented to City Planning Commission
By Elizabeth Bush
Nov 26, 2013 - 7:06:34 PM


At 9,000 acres, the Cainhoy Plantation development project has been dubbed the largest master plan to ever come before the City of Charleston. On November 20, Planning Commission members got their first look at the massive project, and members of the public had an opportunity to offer feedback.
“Most of our parents and grandparents worked on the plantation out there,” stated Aaron Green, a resident of the Jack Primus community in Cainhoy. “…We know there is going to be growth, but our concern is that our way of living…(is) going to drastically change.”
In addition to area residents, those who stood to express an opinion also included representatives of the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Charleston Preservation Society, and the Coastal Conservation League. In the end, most seemed to agree on one central point — more time and input is needed before the project moves forward.
The gathering, which included some 50 audience members, was intended to be a “presentation-only” session to the Planning Commission and no vote was taken. Commission members, and later Charleston City Council, will eventually be asked to consider changing zoning regulations for the tract to allow the proposed new development to proceed.
Matt Sloan, President of the Daniel Island Company, was first to address the group by explaining the history of the Cainhoy parcel and the legacy of its owners, members of the family of the late Harry Frank Guggenheim.
“This is not a Daniel Island Company project,” he stated. “Daniel Island Company is not the applicant…The reason I arrived in Charleston twenty-something years ago was to represent the Guggenheim family interests. They are the applicant here tonight…I’ve been helping them through the process.”
In 1971, the property was passed down from Harry Frank Guggenheim, a renowned businessman, philanthropist, and aviation visionary, to his cousin, Peter O. Lawson-Johnston, who continues to maintain ownership today.  The family has consistently used the property over the last 80 years, said Sloan, particularly during the holiday season.
“They are passionate about the property,” he added. “…They really were not thinking about developing (it), until recently.”
Plans were put into motion, Sloan said, when City of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley contacted the family about four years ago to request land for a planned new high school to serve the Daniel Island and Cainhoy communities. After much talk and deliberation, the family decided it was an appropriate time to begin the development process.
“Things have been written and things have been said that this is all new,” Sloan told the Commission and audience members. “But we’ve been at this for years now. What’s new is the public approval process, and this is our first step.”
Scott Parker, a land planner with Design Works, outlined the family’s vision for the property. Plans call for a mixed use, diverse community — similar to Daniel Island — that offers citizens a place to live, work, shop and recreate. Key components include large residential areas with parks, ponds and connecting trails; job centers and light industrial development; and “river villages” at both the Cooper and Wando Rivers with dramatic waterfront edges.
“When the Guggenheim family looks at the Cainhoy Plantation and what the future of it should be, they have several different lenses that they are looking through,” said Parker. “…When you tour the property with them, they are talking about memories that they have over many years of being here. They also have a very strong sense of responsibility about doing things right.”
The tract also features a number of designated “cultural resources,” or areas of historic significance. St. Thomas and St. Denis Episcopal Church, thought to be the oldest church in South Carolina, is located just outside the property on Cainhoy Road. Several in attendance at the meeting urged developers to take steps to see that areas of importance are preserved and protected.
“Residents in this area have a great risk of begin displaced, at a minimum their culture changed,” said John Robinson, Secretary of the Society of St. Thomas and St. Denis. “…I have no doubt in my mind, given that the Guggenheims have been such great stewards of the property, they will exert all efforts to protect the residents of this area and its cultural resources.”
“This is a tremendous amount of information for the community to absorb,” stated Robert Gurley, of the Charleston Preservation Society. “This is going to be a generational impact on the Lowcountry…The Society is concerned about the potential impact on historic properties and also the intensity of the development. We still don’t have a good handle on a lot of the historic resources.”
“We, too, were struck by the enormity of the project,” added Katherine Pemberton, of the Historic Charleston Foundation. “…In addition to just identifying historical resources, there really needs to be a plan in place beyond identifying them, but a plan to protect them and when possible mitigate effects on them.”
Sloan told the group that he and members of his team have been meeting with Cainhoy advocate Fred Lincoln of the Jack Primus community, an area located on the property’s northeastern edge near the Cooper River that may be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Lincoln expressed concern at a previous public meeting on the project that the development might have a negative impact on housing in his community.  Sloan said he and Lincoln recently took a tour of the property.
“(The Jack Primus community) abuts the plantation,” said Sloan. “And we want to be responsible neighbors and to understand what their interests and needs are. When we come back (to the Planning Commission), we want to have that outlined and detailed.”
“We’re not saying that we are totally in opposition of anything,” said Cainhoy resident Frank Wright, representing Lincoln, who was traveling in Africa at the time of the meeting. “But we want to make sure we do it right.”
Plans are also underway, Sloan explained, to allow the Jack Primus community to have control of the historic Venning Cemetery, located within the Cainhoy Plantation parcel. Other views expressed at the gathering focused on developers being mindful of all potential impacts.
“The density scares me to death,” said Pat Sullivan, of Mount Pleasant. “…I ask that you please look at the traffic. Please consider and honor the land, the history, and the people who live there now…not only in Cainhoy, but the people who live next door in Mount Pleasant and on the other side as well.”
“They have had time to plan, but the community hasn’t,” added MaeRe Skinner, a resident of the historic Cainhoy Village area, located near the Wando River’s edge. “This is our big concern. And we’re so glad that they are now willing to do that.”
Daniel Island Company Chairman and CEO Frank Brumley was also in the audience and offered his comments on the development project. The Cainhoy Plantation Master Plan was largely developed using principles from the award-winning Daniel Island community, the land for which was purchased from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in 1997.  
“I have had the wonderful experience of working with the Guggenheim family,” Brumley said. “…And I have the utmost respect for their integrity and their vision and their commitment to excellence. I have worked with Matt Sloan and this entire team over the last 20 years and I can tell you, I understand there are some questions, and there should be, and they will be ironed out, but this property could not be in better hands.”
At the conclusion of the presentation and public comment period, Commissioners Valerie Perry and Elise Davis-McFarland encouraged their fellow board members to consider holding off on any decisions until all facts can be gathered.
“I just think pushing it to a vote in December is too soon,” said Perry, who recommended the Commission go on a ‘field trip’ to view the property.
“What I think I hear is that people feel they have not had enough input, or maybe they don’t understand,” added Davis-McFarland. “I think more time and more opportunities for people to be heard would be a good thing.”
“Clearly the message from this community is we want to join hands and be involved,” stated Commission Chairman Frances McCann. “…What happens in this property might be our legacy….I hope the discussion is really detailed and involved, because we need to do it right.”
Future meeting dates and/or public hearings on the Cainhoy Plantation Project have not yet been determined, but are expected to be announced in early December.



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