The Cainhoy Peninsula: 'Charleston's last frontier'
There was a time when Clements Ferry Road on the Cainhoy Peninsula was just a quick alternative for motorists who didn’t want to fight traffic congestion on Highway 17. It was a place scattered with remote residences, gas stations, and few businesses. But, as with all of Charleston, time proved that this once quiet area off the beaten path was not immune to development.
“When we first moved in, it was like almost a rural setting,” said Clements Ferry corridor resident Jim Monk, who moved into the region six years ago. As residents and businesses populated Daniel Island, the area began to see more houses added to the bucolic and industrial setting.
Nearly every Charlestonian, business owner, city official, and county representative will attest that growth is a simple fact of life for the Clements Ferry corridor.
“If you look on a map, it’s sort of one of the last big in-fill areas in Charleston,” said Commercial Real Estate Broker Fritz Meyer of Meyer Kapp & Associates. “This is one of the last places that growth can occur.”
Interim Fire Chief Joseph Roberts dubbed the Cainhoy Peninsula the “last frontier for the City of Charleston” at the ribbon cutting for that area’s Fire Station 21 in June. As with any final frontier, people are eventually going to explore and inhabit it. But, growth and change almost always rally concerns from locals. Overall, it’s a broad topic with facets that elicit many different reactions, but often it boils down to the same concerns: infrastructure and planning.
The Clements Ferry corridor has several applications, according to City of Charleston Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability Director Jacob Lindsey.
“This is going to be an area that will be a mix of uses as it grows,” said Lindsey. “And certainly there will be a significant amount of residential growth, but we also anticipate work places and businesses that will build there to compliment that residential growth.”
“Unlike other parts of our city, the Clements Ferry corridor has a tremendous amount of land which is suitable for commercial development in the form of both services and workplaces,” Lindsey elaborated.
The City of Charleston and Berkeley County haven’t always paid close attention to the area, as Fritz Meyer noted.
“There’s a mix of uses along Clements Ferry, especially in the first two miles, that was assembled over time by a lot of different property owners, so there wasn’t a lot of control over where certain things went,” he said.
Looking at a map of the area, it’s easy to see Meyer’s point. A church, a truck marshalling yard, a large multi-family residential property, and an industrial facility are all located within less than a mile of each other.
“It was for years and years neglected by Berkeley County,” said Charleston Industrial Broker-in-Charge Mike White, whose office is located on Daniel Island. “That’s why you have this current state of a smattering of industrial, commercial, and residential lots all kind of on top of each other without a cohesive zoning plan.”
Meyer believes that, with the growth the area has seen, the City and County have made more thoughtful decisions about its development.
“Berkeley County leaders have sought to encourage smart growth across the County,” said Berkeley County Public Information Officer Hannah Moldenhauer. “The administration feels business and industry growth serves to protect citizens from tax increases.”
Moldenhauer asserted that comprehensive evaluations of rezoning applications, the continued widening of Clements Ferry Road, and planning alongside the City of Charleston will better prepare the area for growth.
“As we go forward, there will have to be investments in infrastructure, there will have to be investments in transportation, and the key is to make sure that we are coordinating with our partner governments and planning for those things to take place, and right now we are,” said Lindsey.
GOOD FOR BUSINESS
Businesses of all sizes are going to pop up in the Clements Ferry Road area, and many business owners and experts are very optimistic about the region’s potential. AmplifiedAg, Inc., a farmer and distributor of leafy greens, added a location on the corridor because of its proximity.
“It’s very centrally located, so if we’re selling to the grocery stores - we’re in Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Earth Fare, all of those surrounding stores - this is kind of a centralized hub for us,” said CEO Donald Taylor.
Taylor believes the area will be even better for his business as it grows because AmplifiedAg can sell to the grocery stores, restaurants, and schools that will appear along the corridor in the future.
That sentiment was shared among most business owners interviewed for this article, including Steve Davis, who hopes to open Cainhoy Children’s Academy by the end of the year.
“The growth that is projected out there over the next 20 years, if not longer in the Cainhoy Plantation, was a big driving factor,” said Davis.
“I probably could have done an early childhood center anywhere around Charleston and had some success just with the growth this city has seen, but it’s in dire need around our area,” he added. Out of the 180 families that have signed their children up for the Cainhoy Children’s Academy, Davis said that only a handful are from Daniel Island and the majority are from the Clements Ferry corridor.
The surprising array of businesses planned for the region is a telling factor of how it will look in the next two or three decades. Grocery stores, hardware stores, a dentistry, a children’s academy— it sounds like an actual community or a small town.
Clements Ferry Hardware Store owner Darrin Witt said that the idea for his business came to him when he realized that he had to leave the area to get basic supplies.
“Sometimes it would take me over an hour to get to Lowe’s and get back to Daniel Island with the traffic on 526,” Witt noted.
Witt said that he also realized that the cost to set up shop in the region was less than most other places.
“The square footage price is a lot less on Clements Ferry, not for long though, I don’t think, but right now you can save a few dollars,” he commented.
Clements Ferry resident Dara Liberatore has a different view of the business side of things for the corridor.
“Currently the area is residential and industrial,” she said. “We have absolutely nowhere to shop, eat, or play. And because of the future growth, the price per square foot on any existing buildings makes it beyond difficult for a mom and pop to establish a new business that will actually contribute to the area and community. We tried, however, at $30 to $35 per square foot, we gave up. It’s a shame as this area is so desperate for something good.”
Both Witt and Steve Davis see the development of the Cainhoy Plantation, which is expected to bring some 9,000 new homes to the area over the next several decades, as a lucrative asset to their business locations.
Jacob Lindsey said that the same area is just as important to the City of Charleston.
“The biggest project that will happen in this area will be the development of the Cainhoy Planned Unit Development,” he said. “And over time, over the course of 30 years or more, there will be thousands of dwellings, as well as new workplaces and new commercial services to be built out.”
“The project is already underway, with the construction of the new schools, with commercial areas that are coming in the relatively new future, but it’s just now coming,” Lindsey added.
The DI Development Company is managing the development of Cainhoy Plantation. Representatives of the company report they are excited about the opportunities the new community will bring.
“The new community created within the current Cainhoy Plantation will provide a vibrant core of shops, restaurants, and professional and medical services to an area within the City of Charleston that has long been under-served with those everyday conveniences,” said DI Development Company President Matt Sloan. “Together with the two K-12 Philip Simmons schools that recently opened on the property and a broad array of residential opportunities, parks and trails, the community will provide places to live, work and play within a location directly in the path of Charleston’s growth.”
ON THE ROAD, AGAIN
Clements Ferry Road is a primary focal point when looking at the region’s infrastructure needs. The road has become a major travel point for commuters and truckers, and thanks to the new number of citizens living there, residents. And while the widening plans, which are being completed in two phases, have been met with some criticism for their projected time frames, locals understand the change is warranted.
“The infrastructure needs to keep pace, and right now, it’s not,” said Jim Monk. “The Clements Ferry Road system, they’ve been working on the phase one of that that goes down to Gildan for at least three years, and it’s a good year off before that even comes into effect.”
In addition, Dara Liberatore believes that the increasing population is contributing to the infrastructure problems.
“The fact that permits are being issued to builders to continue building condos, townhouses and homes is crazy,” she said. “The current and future infrastructure cannot handle more residents.”
The City of Charleston and Berkeley County do not want to leave Clements Ferry Road as the single access point and thoroughfare.
“We have been coordinating with Berkeley County, as well as with our own Department of Traffic and Transportation, to make sure that we are managing the improvements to Clements Ferry as they go forward,” said Lindsey. “But, in the future, we also want to establish more roadway connections and a parallel road network to help disperse traffic throughout the Peninsula, so that Clements Ferry does not become the only route of travel.”
According to Lindsey, they are already working on this plan as they approve and review individual projects.
Mike White believes that the current plan for Clements Ferry does not widen it enough.
“It was designed 10 years ago for an amount of traffic that’s currently using it, but as Cainhoy continues to build out that Clements Ferry area, particularly the on-ramp to I-526, will become a real choke point,” he said.
White stated that the City and County should consider expanding Clements Ferry further.
Donald Taylor states that, as a whole, the infrastructure debate is normal and less consequential than people might think.
“I think the infrastructure, no matter whether you’re talking about a business or whatever model and environment you’re talking about, growth brings challenges,” he said. “And you’re always not going to have enough infrastructure. You don’t have enough capital, you don’t have enough infrastructure, you don’t have enough people, it’s always a challenge. But, I think we always figure out how to make it work, eventually.”