On Thursday November 19, 2015, Charleston County Council gave the third and final reading of all four applications related to the East Edisto – Spring Grove Project. The approval formalizes the Charleston County portion of the project, codifying the requirement for conservation and rural zoning for three-quarters of the total property acreage. This effort is the single largest private conservation action in the history of South Carolina.
As part of this conservation agreement, the East Edisto Conservancy was formed. On February 25, 2016, WestRock and the Conservation League hosted a celebration to mark the finalization of the conservation easements and creation of the East Edisto Conservancy – the video above was shown at that celebration. The Conservancy is a single purpose entity with the responsibility of holding a Density Restriction, which significantly limits development on more than 53,000 acres in Dorchester and Charleston Counties. Endowed by WestRock (formerly MeadWestvaco) and led by a Board of conservation and WestRock leaders, the Conservancy will ensure that outside of the communities of Summers Corner and Spring Grove- the East Edisto Region will remain permanently rural. Along the Edisto River, an existing conservation easement insures that no homes will be built; and that the area will be used primarily for education and recreation.
Project Information: The East Edisto property, owned by various MeadWestvaco (MWV) affiliated entities, consists of approximately 72,000 acres of rural and ecologically valuable land in Charleston and Dorchester Counties. MWV’s Regional Master Plan for East Edisto pledges to leave seventy-five percent of the area as rural countryside. MWV initially applied for approval to develop 32,000 acres in Charleston County and 48,000 acres in Dorchester County. While they are moving forward with the 48,000 acres in Dorchester County, they have since reduced the project area in Charleston County to approximately 14,000 acres, maintaining the remainder as resource management land.
The Coastal Conservation League has worked extensively with MWV to ensure that they are restricting densities on three-quarters of the total property acreage, and to help them develop form-based codes for both counties, which will further lead to conservation of rural areas and traditional neighborhood development of urban areas within the project boundaries.
To date, MWV has recorded conservation easements covering most of the East Edisto property located in Dorchester County and some of the property in Charleston County. In addition to these easements, MWV has either rezoned or is in the process of rezoning large portions of the East Edisto property. Essentially all of the Dorchester County property subject to the conservation easements was rezoned to a type of form-based code and this zoning change was effectuated as part of a broader Development Agreement. MWV is working on similar zoning changes and agreements with Charleston County for approximately 14,000 acres, which are currently undergoing review by the Charleston County planning staff. Funding from the Charleston County Greenbelt Program has been earmarked to purchase a 638-acre tract know as Spring Grove for Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC), and is pending approval of MWV’s Charleston County application.
Through our negotiations, MWV has agreed to permanently restrict development by using an endowed conservancy to oversee and enforce the private density restrictions in the form of conservation easements. MWV continues to assure the conservation community that this project will adhere to original sustainable development project goals with the majority of the land under permanent development protections, and to that end has started recording our agreed upon density restriction amendments in both counties.
CCL will continue to work with MWV and the two counties to ensure that this project adheres to original project goals of smart, sustainable development. We will review all the amendments that MWV records in both counties, and help guide the formation and operation of the endowed conservancy.