Industrial Growth in Rural Dorchester County
Dorchester County is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented industrial growth, much of it located along U.S. 78 near Jedburg and Ridgeville. The largest and most well-known example is the 1,030 acre Ridgeville Industrial Campus, where Walmart is currently constructing a nearly 3 million square foot distribution center, which will occupy about half of the complex. Excitement over this project, along with renewed interest in nearby Camp Hall Commerce Park in Berkeley County, where Volvo Cars is located, has kick started a procession of rezonings for the establishment of new industrial sites nearby. Dorchester County currently has thousands of acres available for industrial use. This growth can be good for Dorchester County, bringing new jobs and opportunities, but only if industrial sites are located in appropriate places where they won’t have negative impacts on the environment or longstanding communities.
Natural and Cultural Resources Near Ridgeville
The Town of Ridgeville was established in the early 1800s. It was one of the first stations on the South Carolina Railroad from Charleston to Hamburg. The area was called Ridgeville as early as 1820 because of its location on a ridge between two swamps: Four Holes Swamp, a large tributary of the Edisto River; and Cypress Swamp, a major headwater of the Ashley River. These swamps are integral to the culture and ecology of the area, offering recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing, serving as habitat for wildlife, and providing ecosystem services such as flood management for our communities.
Just outside of the Town Ridgeville in unincorporated Dorchester County lies Coburn Town, an African American settlement community first settled in the late 1800’s following the emancipation of enslaved people after the Civil War. Little of the history of this community has been officially recorded to date. However, groups such as the Preservation Society of Charleston are currently working with the residents to learn and document the history of Coburn Town so the historical context and character of the community can be recognized and protected, similar to ongoing efforts with the Phillips community in Mt. Pleasant and the Jack Primus community in the Wando area of Berkeley County.
The Cypress Methodist Camp Ground is also located nearby, about 1 mile off of U.S. 78 on Cypress Campground Road. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the site originated in 1794 during the Great Awakening religious movement. Francis Asbury, the country’s first Methodist bishop, delivered sermons here. The camp ground is one of only a handful in South Carolina that continue to host religious camp-meetings. There are numerous historic structures located on the property, and the adjacent cemetery contains graves from the 1800’s.
As Dorchester County continues to encourage industrial development along U.S. 78, steps should be taken to limit immediate impacts to the natural and cultural resources nearby, as well as the surrounding character and context. These are the things that make the Lowcountry special and provide a high-quality of life for residents.
Ridgeville/Coburn Town Rezoning
Dorchester County is currently considering a request to rezone 176 acres from AR (Agricultural Residential) to CLI (Commercial/Light Industrial). While there is no specific development proposal associated with the rezoning, County officials have stated that the site would most likely become a warehouse & distribution complex. The property is located near the heart of Ridgeville, right behind Church Street, though it is not officially within the Town’s limits. The property also borders the historic Coburn Town settlement community on three sides and is directly across the street from residences along Railroad Avenue as well as Clay Hill Elementary School.
This is an example of an area that is NOT appropriate for industrial development. An industrial facility of this scale in this location would jeopardize the opportunity for the historic Town of Ridgeville to grow and develop as a distinct community by concentrating industrial buildings in the heart of town. This will discourage future mixed-use development in the area such as shops, offices, restaurants, and residential units that would enhance the character of the Town as envisioned in the Dorchester County Comprehensive Plan. It would also threaten the character and quality of life for residents in the Coburn Town community, and along Railroad Avenue. Industrial uses here would introduce more air pollution, heavy truck traffic, public safety concerns, as well as noise and light pollution to surrounding communities.
According to the Dorchester County Zoning & Land Development Standards, this is not an appropriate site for CLI zoning. The Standards state: “The zoning of CLI land is not encouraged except as an extension of an existing CLI district, adjacent to industrial districts, or where the proposed district is isolated from existing or planned residential uses.” This site is surrounded by other AR properties, many of which have residences on the property.
Managing Growth Responsibly
Dorchester County should maintain the current AR (Agricultural Residential) zoning on the property near Ridgeville and Coburn Town. Instead of rezoning the property at this time, they should consider instituting new policies to guide growth to the most appropriate places in order to protect rural land, open space and historic communities. Revising and renaming the old AC (Absence of Control) zoning to AR (Agricultural Residential) to better maintain traditional land uses is a good first step. The County is also considering the development of a “Growth Management Plan” for the Ridgeville/Givhans area. There are no details of this plan currently available, but the concept is promising. In addition to these measures, Dorchester County should consider utilizing additional land use tools to further preserve the character of rural areas such as implementing rural density guidelines within the AR (Agricultural and Residential) zoning district and instituting strategic growth boundaries, among other things.