Summerville Area Offers Fresh Opportunities for Working Families and Active Retirees
The Birthplace of Sweet Tea and Hospitality
By JG Walker Previously published in the 2015 Fall Issue.
When Governor Nikki Haley stepped up to the microphones on May 11, 2015, she had a big announcement for current and future residents of the South Carolina Lowcountry: international automaker Volvo Cars had decided to locate its first American manufacturing plant in Berkeley County, about 30 miles west of downtown Charleston near the town of Summerville.
Site preparation work for the new Volvo facility is underway this fall and the first cars are expected to roll off of the assembly line by 2018. Initially, up to 2,000 workers will be employed at the plant, a figure that could double with anticipated expansions. The goal is to produce up to 100,000 cars per year and the operation has been estimated to spur the creation of more than 6,000 additional area jobs with a total economic impact of nearly five billion dollars annually.
Significantly for South Carolinians concerned about environmental impacts, Volvo has committed to preserving 1,500 acres of wetlands as part of a “green belt” around the greater Charleston area. The company will also channel stormwater run-off to form ponds that will increase local wildlife habitat and is working with utility provider Santee-Cooper to power the facility with renewable energy sources.
South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt, who along with Governor Haley and local business leaders had lobbied for the new Volvo plant, said: “We’re excited to celebrate the decision of yet another global leader that our state is ‘just right’ for business.” Among the other companies with an international reach to which Hitt was referring is Boeing, which opened a major airline manufacturing facility next to the Charleston International Airport in 2011, as well as high-tech service companies that have established their headquarters on Daniel Island and in Charleston’s revitalized Upper Peninsula corridor.
In fact, while other areas of the nation are slowly recovering from the economic downturn of 2008, business is booming in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Often, when new companies move in to an area, there’s a scramble to develop residential communities and their supporting infrastructure. But what’s interesting about the Summerville area and adjacent Berkeley County is that they were already among the South’s fastest growing regions for working families and active retirees. Indeed, even prior to the Volvo announcement, the area just to the west of the historic city had become “Charleston’s New Frontier.”
Flowertown in the Pines
Touting itself as the “Birthplace of Sweet Tea and Southern hospitality,” Summerville is a South Carolina town with its own interesting history. As the port city of Charleston became more densely populated from the mid-1700s onward, well-to-do residents sought refuge from the seasonal high humidity and temperatures in those days prior to air conditioning. So they escaped to an elevated area outside of town dubbed “Summerville,” which offered a refreshing atmosphere scented with the region’s abundant pine trees.
Summerville came to be recognized as a healthy place to visit and live, a reputation that persists to this day. So does the local pride in its environmental amenities: shortly after incorporation in 1848, the municipality enacted what is believed to be the nation’s first tree-protection ordinance to prohibit the felling of the large pines and oaks that are still a hallmark of the town’s older neighborhoods. And Summerville residents have always been avid gardeners, which led to the establishment of the “Flowertown Festival” after World War II, a springtime celebration that continues to attract thousands every year to enjoy the town’s beautiful azaleas and other fragrant blossoms.
Even as the area around it has grown, Summerville has retained its small-town charm in part with a hugely successful downtown revitalization effort. Older buildings that have been preserved and renovated now house new shops, restaurants and offices. And the town has kept up with the times: in addition to free parking, the downtown area offers free WI-FI service to visitors and merchants, one of the first municipalities in South Carolina to do so.
Geographically, the Summerville area is perfectly positioned: Interstate 26, South Carolina’s main east-west thoroughfare, runs right through the middle of the region and connects with Interstate 95, the East Coast’s primary north-south corridor. The recently expanded Charleston International Airport is just a 15-20 minute drive from most points in the area and all of Charleston’s cultural, recreational and medical amenities are just over a half-hour away.
“The growth Summerville is experiencing,” Mayor Bill Collins said, “has brought a diversity of dining, shopping and entertainment options that make us an even greater place to live. And now we are seeing increasing job opportunities. You also get more bang for your buck in housing.”
So, let’s get a brief look at some of Summerville’s planned residential communities:
One of the first local developers to recognize the Summerville area’s potential was The Daniel Island Company. Formed in the early 1990s by a group of visionary entrepreneurs, the company acquired 4,000 acres on Daniel Island to create an entirely new “island town” within the Charleston city limits. Today, Daniel Island has more than 9,000 full-time residents, a thriving downtown commercial center, three highly rated schools, two major sports venues and the national corporate headquarters for high-tech companies Blackbaud and BenefitFocus.
By any measure, the development of Daniel Island is an ongoing success story, but the Daniel Island Company isn’t resting on those laurels. It’s moving forward in the Summerville area with a new master-planned community at Carnes Crossroads, named for the traditional designation of the U.S. Highway 17-A and state Highway 176 intersection.
“We saw early on that the Carnes Crossroads property offered a strategic location relevant to Charleston’s projected growth,” said Daniel Island Company President Matt Sloan. “Our region’s economy has come back in a big way and the Summerville area is at the center of growth activity. It’s exciting to be involved in creating a new community to serve the residential, recreational and commercial needs of this growing area. As we did on Daniel Island, we are creating a place where people can live, work, shop, play and learn.”
The 2,300-acre Carnes Crossroads site is a master-planned community that will include a mix of single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums. The first single-family neighborhood—St. Thomas Park— is already well-established with more than 50 occupied homes. Work on the second of six additional single-family phases, each with its own neighborhood park, is expected to begin this fall. When the multi-family phases are completed, Carnes Crossroads will eventually have as many as 15,000 residents.
The community lakes, parks and greenspace will be connected by a series of trails for walking, running and biking. A 25-meter swimming pool and a playground for the kids are currently in place, next to the refurbished Green Barn that hosts a weekly farmer’s market and other community events.
As with Daniel Island, Carnes Crossroads will have “downtown” commercial center that community residents can access via the trail network. The Market at Carnes Crossroads will feature a grocery store and complementary retail outlets. Additional shops, restaurants and professional service offices are also planned along the public highways that will form a new area commercial hub.
Carnes Crossroads will also follow the Daniel Island model with its own on-site schools. Work is underway on the private Northwood Acadamy; the upper-school facility for grades six through 12 will welcome its first students in the fall of 2016 and primary school classrooms for K-5 students will follow in 2017.
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Lakes of Cane Bay
Cane Bay Plantation, located a short drive west of Carnes Crossroads on Highway 176, encompasses 10 distinct master-planned communities by different developers. The entrance is flanked by a commercial center with a grocery store, shops and offices on one side and the new Cane Bay High School on the other. Just beyond are the Cane Bay elementary and middle schools, giving this community an impressive group of public education facilities that are state-of-the-art by any standard.
The newest additions to Cane Bay Plantation are two Lakes of Cane Bay neighborhoods being developed by K. Hovnanian, the seventh largest homebuilder in the United States. The first is The Coves, which features a variety of single-family homesites that include some with water views. The amenities will include a community clubhouse with a pool and other recreational facilities.
The second Lakes neighborhood promises to be one of the region’s most unique developments and the only active adult community for residents age 50 and over in Cane Bay Plantation— K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Lakes of Cane Bay.
Sam Abruzzo is the Senior Community Manager for K. Hovnanian. “I have been building active adult communities for over 20 years,” he said, “and this is the most amazing piece of property for an active adult community that I have ever seen. It is surrounded by a gorgeous 300-plus acre lake that is going to take our active lifestyle to a whole new level. K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons brand always provides a spectacular amenity package to support the lifestyle that active adult buyers are looking for, but when you add the lake to the package, it is just something you have to see for yourself.”
The community’s signature lake is part of eight miles of navigable waterways that will enable residents to row, kayak, sail and paddleboard in a setting that will be peaceful by design because while electric-powered craft are permitted, gas-engine motorboats are prohibited. Between the open water on the perimeter and a large expanse of wetland preserve at the center will be 827 lots for single-family homes, the first of which will be released for sale in early 2016.
The 20,000-square-foot lakefront clubhouse will feature saltwater indoor and outdoor pools, as well as bocce ball, pickleball and tennis courts. The fitness center includes a yoga/dance studio and adjacent rooms for art classes, card games and billiards. Uniquely, the clubhouse will have a demonstration kitchen where chefs for leading Charleston restaurants will be invited to share their secrets with community members.
The K. Hovnanian development in Cane Bay “is the right place at the right time,” Abruzzo said. “It is great to see the steady growth of the Summerville area. With growth come services and supporting businesses that increase the quality and convenience of everyday living.”
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“Nexton is a game-changer for our town and the Charleston region,” said Mayor Collins. Located just five minutes from downtown Summerville, at the crossroads of I-26 and U.S. Highway 17A, Nexton joins homes, offices, shopping and dining with parks and schools to create an energized walkable town environment.
Nexton Design Director Joe Barnes said, “I’ve found that very often communities look back at what’s been done in the past and try to recreate it. At Nexton, we’re learning from what’s worked best in the past and combining it with what we have heard people express they are looking for in communities today. We’re using the past as a stepping stone and pulling in what’s appropriate for today to build a place that’s comfortable and innovative.
“Another thing that sets Nexton apart is that MeadWestvaco (the developer) … is known for doing the right things in the right way. With each step we are taking our time and bringing in the right people with the right expertise to implement the plan. It’s been great to push the envelope and try some new and different things.”
According to Dereck Harris, Senior Manager of Construction, “Nexton stands out through our extraordinary commitment to the design side of things. We built a to-scale model to see what Nexton would look like before we ever moved a tree, and then tweaked it until we knew we had something spectacular. And we go out of our way to do things like keep trees and preserve the resources we already have…. We’re also big on sustainable design. Every street light in this community is LED. The Nexton Office building is LEED gold certified and nearly everyone in our department is LEED accredited. The MWV office has a Green Globes for Sustainable Interiors rating system certification. We also use Evotherm, a low-temperature, low emission asphalt, that is much more environmentally-friendly than the standard.”
The 4,500-acres Nexton will have over 10,000 homes (including 2,000 apartments), six million square feet of commercial space, 2,000 acres of parks and nature and over 50 miles of trails. It’s also the first gigabit broadband community in South Carolina.
Harris also said, “It’s a project I can bring my children back to and be proud of what we put on the ground. It’s a real community.”
Located about five miles west of historic downtown Summerville is The Ponds, a 2,000-acre master-planned community that has been welcoming new residents since 2009. Once the site of a sprawling antebellum plantation, The Ponds and its homeowners have a genuine appreciation for the natural Lowcountry lifestyle. More than half of the acreage is part of a dedicated Conservation Area and The Ponds Conservancy, a not-for-profit community organization and earned a prestigious Historic Preservation Award in 2015 from the Palmetto Trust for its environmental efforts.
In addition to its well-established neighborhoods, developer Kolter Homes has announced the new Cresswind at The Ponds for active adults ages 55 and over. The first eight decorator-designed model homes are now open and The Club at Cresswind is under construction with a spring of 2016 opening. A complete fitness center with a full-time activities director will ensure that The Club at Cresswind will be the focal point of healthy-lifestyle events in the Cresswind community.
Cresswind residents will also enjoy all of the other amenities at The Ponds, including an on-site YMCA, walking trails that connect community neighborhoods and an outdoor amphitheatre for music concerts and other activities, plus two ponds and a lake for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. A Village Center with offices and shops is taking shape near the community entrance.
With its strategic location, thriving business climate and new neighborhoods coming online at Carnes Crossroads, the Lakes of Cane Bay, The Ponds and Nexton, the Summerville area is poised to redefine itself in the years ahead. While current residents are certainly proud of their area’s history and protective of its environmental assets, they also welcome the high-quality developments that are the foundation of regional growth. Because they know that the working families and active retirees who are moving to the Summerville area will help to define the character of “Charleston’s New Frontier.”