East Cooper Black Communities Face Continued Threats From Development

Thomasena Stokes Marshall

By Barney Blakeney

Black residents east of the Cooper River are mounting concerted challenges to redevelopment that continues to displace them. Most recently black residents are confronting Mount Pleasant town officials who approved height limits for two hotels in the Four Mile community that are higher than those in predominantly white communities elsewhere in the town. And the residents’ also are challenging redevelopment proposed by some within their communities.

Four Mile Community Association Board Chair Anthony Freeman said the neighborhood of predominantly black residents whose families have owned land in the area more than 100 years has been pushed around and now might be pushed out. In the stronger economy redevelopment and gentrification taking place over the past several decades is accelerating. Construction of Hungryneck Boulevard that dissected the community is a catalyst for further redevelopment that threatens to push current residents out, he said.

New commercial and residential developments have changed the character of once rural black communities and despite studies that recognize African American Settlement communities like Four Mile, Snowden, Phillips, Scanolinville and others within the Sweetgrass Overlay District, local governments are making different rules for developers.

Mount Pleasant Town Council members recently voted to lower the height of buildings on three parcels in the Coleman Boulevard Old Village District from 75 feet to 55 feet. A three-story/45-feet height limit applies to the rest of the town. However the council recently approved zoning to allow two 55-feet hotels in the historically black Four Mile community. Much of the community is located in an unincorporated donut hole under Charleston County government jurisdiction. Freeman said the differences are dramatic. One block from the proposed location of the hotels, black residents live on an unpaved street, he said.

And local governments make it more difficult for traditional residents to maximize the use of their land, he said. One business owner whose family has owned land in the community several generations was denied zoning that would have enhanced their business and black property owners are limited by density restrictions that are not imposed on developers, Freeman said.

Ultimately the double standards will result in the displacement of existing residents, Freeman said. They are being deceived to think that higher property values will translate into increased personal wealth. But higher property values only mean anything if landowners sell, he noted.

Black communities east of the Cooper also face challenges from within, former Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall noted in a recent correspondence.

In 2016, Snowden residents became aware that leaders at Olive Branch AME Church were negotiating with one of the largest developers in the country to sell the 20 acres of property located in the Snowden community owned by the church. Residents wanted to know if church leaders had taken considered the impact the proposed development would have on the community. More than a thousand signatures opposing the proposed sale and development of the 20 acres were mailed to the leaders of the AME Church on the local, state and national level. A year later they still are awaiting a response from the AME Church, she said.

“Whatever happened to the Church leaders of years gone by when the church was the foundation of the community to help and protect their parishioners and community? Unfortunately, many of today’s church leaders are more focused on getting as much as they can from those who can least afford it and not addressing the many issues that are facing our aging senior population and the destruction of so many of today’s youths, while providing very few community programs and activities for those who need it the most,” she said in her correspondence.

Mount Pleasant Old Village resident John Wright said residents from many of the identified African American Settlement communities now are forming a commission to insure they have input in how redevelopment of their communities occur.

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