If they can open up to smart growth priciples.....i.e. "Portland style" with phrases like "greenbelts" and "5 mile radius" city growth boundaries........IN the Lowlands of South Carolina, there is no reason, these medium up and coming Southern cities and towns can't do the same.
'Smart Growth’ in South Carolina
By LISA CHAMBERLAIN
Published: April 29, 2007
Jasper County, S.C.
Lush Land The “low country” near the Pocotaligo River in Jasper County, S.C., is attracting outside buyers like Debbie and Tim Phipps with their sons.
Tommy and Tyler Stanley have mixed feelings about the recent building growth.
THE “low country” here at the southern tip of South Carolina has long been passed through by people driving to and from Florida on Interstate 95. It has even been overlooked by visitors to Hilton Head, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., both within a half-hour’s drive.
But the county’s lush landscape — rural and marshy, with wetlands and rivers and an abundance of Southern live oak trees draped with Spanish moss — is finally being discovered by outsiders.
Explosive residential development has sprung up nationwide, even in the most unlikely places. But it is only now arriving in Jasper County. With a population of less than 30,000 spread over 600 square miles, an area about twice the size of New York City, Jasper could become the site of 40,000 or so new homes in the coming years, which could more than double the current population, local officials say.
Rather than allowing development to overwhelm the county, officials have collaborated on a plan that tries to guide growth and preserve the region’s natural beauty.
An estimated 30,000 new homes have already been approved in Hardeeville, which grew in a few years from five square miles to more than 50.
One large-scale development, called Tradition, broke ground in October, with 9,500 homes in the $500,000 price range. Hampton Pointe, a gated golf community of 1,022 homes by the Toll Brothers, is also under way, with prices starting in the mid-$300,000s. The first occupancies are expected this fall.
Meanwhile, Ridgeland, the largest town in Jasper, has 1,000 homes on the way, according to local officials, not including expected development on an additional 20,000 acres still outside the city limits.
“Jasper has been waiting for this,” said Edward G. Evans Jr., who has lived here for 30 years with his wife, Diane. Mr. Evans, a principal owner of a land planning and landscape design firm, Wood & Partners, said that he and his wife had recently built a new “preretirement” home for themselves on land that is still accessed by a dirt road. It is in a development area that four years ago was vacant and now has 45 houses. The single-family homes are priced from $300,000 to $600,000.
Longtime residents and local officials who want to guide growth, but not hinder it, say they believe that Jasper will benefit from developing later than other parts of the South. Having watched their neighbors, particularly Beaufort County, become overwhelmed by growth that spilled over from Hilton Head, Jasper officials say, they saw what was coming and got together to set some ground rules.
“In areas like ours, where people are starved for development, they’re willing to give away the farm,” said Kevin Griffin, assistant city manager of Hardeeville, who has an advanced degree in urban planning. “But we’ve really tried to get ahead of the growth, rather than being five years behind and having to catch up.”
More than two years ago, local leaders from Hardeeville and Ridgeland got together with county officials to collaborate on a shared growth plan. A five-mile radius was drawn around Ridgeland, and another five-mile radius was set around Hardeeville, delineating where development could occur according to local zoning laws.
Any landowners who fall outside of each town’s boundary and want to build have to petition to be annexed, and if approved, pay for the installation of sewers, water, and roads. After extensive research, the joint planning committee determined that every new residential unit costs about $6,200 in services.
“People talk about smart growth, but this is more like fiscal growth,” Mr. Griffin said. “We don’t say you can’t develop here; it’s a pay-to-play environment. Suddenly, that cheap land doesn’t seem so cheap anymore. But the good developers, the ones who want to be stewards of the land, they are the ones who can adjust their plans and create a quality product.”
Not [only does the joint planning agreement require impact fees, it also encourages mixed-use development and mandates that land be set aside for public services like parks.
“The boundary acts like a greenbelt,” said Jason Taylor, the administrator for Ridgeland, the county seat. “It’s a beautiful area down here, but the problem is, people discover areas like this that have been undiscovered for so long, and they crush it under the weight of new growth. All the land’s been cleared, and wildlife has disappeared, and it’s no longer what it was. Guiding growth will prevent that from happening.”
Land outside the two designated boundaries is regulated by the county, which currently has a moratorium on development until an updated zoning plan is put into effect, which is expected to happen in June.
“We want to maintain the rural character,” said Glenn Storck, chairman of the county planning commission, particularly the pristine land on the northern tip of the county, known as Mackay Point. “It’s beautiful, virgin land up there.”
Until recently, Mackay Point was virtually uninhabited, except for the Mackay Point Plantation, an old, private club where Vice President Dick Cheney has hunted. Coming soon is the Settings of Mackay Point, an upscale development on the Pocotaligo River, which was already under way before the moratorium was put in place.
But the developer’s sensitivity to the landscape won over its very private neighbor and county officials alike.
Situated on 327 acres of marsh and wetland, with 40 percent set aside for a natural preserve with hiking trails and open space, 411 homes will be built at the development on lots slightly smaller than lots on similar upscale developments. Shared boat docks and narrow roadways also help preserve land.
Lots were specifically drawn to accommodate the oldest live oak trees, and the developer, the Settings Development Companies, an Atlanta-based concern, has a policy of no clear-cutting. The first phase of the project is nearly sold out, with vacant lots selling for $100,000 to $800,000.
Debbie and Tim Phipps, who live in Cincinnati with their three sons — Kyle, 18, Austin, 15, and Parker, 12 — came across the Settings after vacationing in Savannah and Hilton Head.
They were recently in the area to look at “low-country” home designs, characterized by wraparound porches, large windows and pitched roofs. It is a style they will use when building on their newly bought lot.
“We just fell in love with the whole area,” Mrs. Phipps said. “It’s not built up and not in the middle of a big hub of activity, with the huge clubhouse and all of that. It’s simple living but accessible to Savannah and Hilton Head” — which is a 40-minute boat ride away.
“The landscape to us, it just said ‘South,’ with the live oaks and Spanish moss, marshes and rivers,” said Mr. Phipps, who is an operations manager for a packaging firm. “It just puts us in a soft frame of mind.”
But for all the efforts at progressive planning and development, growth is still changing the area, creating mixed feelings for a few lifetime residents, like Tommy and Tyler Stanley.
The Stanleys are fourth-generation Jasper County residents. They live in a home, which they are now renovating, that had belonged to Mr. Stanley’s grandmother. Mr. Stanley, 37, said he specifically chose a career as a land surveyor so he could stay in Jasper County after graduating from high school.
He thought he was going to work for timber companies, which until recently owned much of the land in Jasper County. Instead he is working for developers — a job that is keeping him busy.
“Development is coming like a tsunami,” Mr. Stanley said. “As a surveyor, you know you’re seeing these properties for the last time as they are. But we’re open-minded enough to know that things change.”