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City Planning Commissioners hear update on Cainhoy project
By Elizabeth Bush
Dec 23, 2013 - 8:34:23 AM

If those involved in the Cainhoy Plantation Development Plan could sum up their reaction to public concerns expressed at a November 20 meeting of the City of Charleston Planning Commission, it would likely be “We’re listening.”
Since the gathering, activity regarding the site has been high, stated Matt Sloan, who is representing the 9000 acre property’s owners, the family of the late Harry Frank Guggenheim. The development, when fully complete, could bring more than 19,000 new residences to the Cainhoy Peninsula. Sloan reported to the Planning Commission on December 18 that he and his fellow team members have been “very busy,” since the board’s last gathering, meeting with various community groups to discuss the project and gather input.
“We had a packed house here last month and it was exciting to roll this project out to the community,” said Sloan, addressing the commissioners. “Some questions were raised…and we are hopefully here with some answers.”
According to Sloan, several groups and individuals have toured the property with him over the last several weeks, including the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Coastal Conservation League, representatives of the neighboring Jack Primus community, and eight of the nine members of the Planning Commission. Sloan also said he met with Father John Burwell at the site of the historic St. Thomas and St. Denis Church, which sits just outside the eastern edge of the property along Cainhoy Road. The church is owned by Holy Cross Church on Sullivan’s Island.
“It’s been very interesting to get with Father Burwell and hear his thoughts on what he is trying to accomplish there,” added Sloan. “It’s a fascinating place with a deep rich history. It is surrounded by Guggenheim property.”
Fred Lincoln, a long-time Cainhoy resident and advocate for the Jack Primus neighborhood, has also spent time touring the property with Sloan and his team. One concern voiced by Lincoln at the project’s first public meeting on October 15 was that the plan did not include adequate options for affordable housing.
“Our family history started on this property,” Lincoln told the Planning Commission at their December 18 meeting. “Our graveyard (known as the Venning Cemetery) is still there, active on this plantation…We have a history, we have an emotional attachment to our community…If this development is done bad, we can’t leave…We’re going to be there.”
Sloan said he and his team are working with the Jack Primus community in planning for an adjoining neighborhood that would have some “entry level starter housing.” In addition, ownership of the Venning Cemetery is in the process of being turned over to the Jack Primus community, he said.

The history of the land
At Sloan’s request, Eric Poplin, an archaeologist with Brockington & Associates, addressed the Planning Commission regarding the property’s many historic or cultural resources. While there has never been an intensive examination of Cainhoy Plantation itself to identify resources, Poplin said laws involving permitting will trigger further exploration.
“If there are significant resources there, then the developer, the (state or federal permitting) agency and the State Historic Preservation Office will enter into agreement to determine how to avoid those significant resources, preserve them in place, incorporate them into the development or design and implement mitigative actions,” said Poplin.
“…There is an extremely rigorous state and federal process and all this takes years and years and years,” added Sloan. “But you do it in manageable bites.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Robert Gurley of the Preservation Society of Charleston said visiting the property was helpful and that it marked “the beginning of a conversation,” but he added that more needs to be done.
“We are deeply concerned still at this point about the impact of this development on historic resources, cultural resources, and a lack of information about these resources.”
“What we would love to see at the front end is a little more attention paid to the resources and understanding where they are,” added Winslow Hastie, Chief Preservation Officer for the Historic Charleston Foundation. “We don’t think this means an intensive cultural resources survey, but you could do a reconnaissance survey over this property to really understand where the most resources are, prioritize them and have that guide where future development occurs.”
On the environmental side, Coastal Conservation League representative Jake Libaire said he was encouraged by the efforts of Sloan and his team to reach out to the public, but he still feels there are issues that need to be vetted.
“You still have industrial development on the doorstep of the Francis Marion National Forest. You’re still showing full scale clearing and development of about 2500 acres of pristine longleaf pine forest on the northern half of the site. Until we see some improvement in that regard, we are still going to be concerned about this plan.”
More public meetings planned
In an effort to provide the community further opportunity to be involved in the planning process, the City of Charleston Planning, Preservation & Sustainability Department will host two public meetings on the proposed Cainhoy Development Plan. The first, a “Planning Charette,” will be held on January 8, from 10 am to 7 pm, at the Keith School, 1509 Clements Ferry Road. A follow-up to this meeting will be held on January 9, from 6 pm to 7:30 pm at Cainhoy Elementary Middle School. The project will be presented to the City Planning Commission in a special meeting scheduled for 5 pm on January 29.
Lincoln, among others, is hopeful the gatherings will provide a productive and open dialogue.
“The developers need to sit down with the community eye to eye, at the same level, and work something out,” said Lincoln. “….We just don’t want it to be a charade….Something meaningful needs to come out of it….Then, we can go forward.”

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