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Red Top Project Shows The Contrasts in Rural Developments
11/12/2014 4:14:56 PM

Robert Brown
By Barney Blakeney

Promises from a developer planning to develop over 1,200 acres adjacent to the Red Top community West Ashley to provide mitigation compensation to Red Top residents is a stunning example of how new developments should interface with existing traditional communities, said S.C. House Dist. 116 Rep. Robert Brown of Hollywood. He contrasted the proposed development with another in the area, Bulow Landing, that has been more conflicting.

In the past several decades new developments in rural communities that often traversed through traditional Black neighborhoods have destroyed the Gullah Geechee flavor of Black culture developed over many generations. From Hilton Head Island to Myrtle Beach, Lowcountry intercoastal new development has displaced traditional Black residents and transformed their former communities into affluent subdivisions.

The Long Savannah project began in that manner, but developers who recognized the value of creating a more desirable coexistence between old and new listened to residents, Brown said. Still the mutually beneficial dual existence didn’t come without some conflict, he noted.

Initially, in 2007 members of the Red Top Improvement Association challenged the proposed Long Savannah project. Residents of the historically Black rural community opposed the proposal to widen Bear Swamp Road to four lanes. For the hundreds of residents who have lived in the area for generations the widened road would herald even more development and change the basis of a culture nurtured for hundreds of years. The conflict even went to the courts as residents resisted the invasion.

But through a spirit of cooperation the opposing parties reached agreement. They reached an agreement that included $1 million for mitigation to the community and a promise not to widen Bear Swamp Road. The City of Charleston plans to develop a park in the community as well. Eventually residents of Long Savannah’s 4,600 homes will get a new school. Red Top residents are promised they will be zoned to attend it also. And although the project now has new owners, the new developers promise to honor the previous agreement.

“I support the development because the developers are working with the community,” Brown said. “They’re being inclusive rather than exclusive. This should be a model for other developments,” he said.

In contrast, the developers of the proposed Bulow Landing project just a few miles down the road on U.S. Highway 17 South remain embattled with residents of the Davidson community.

Most residents of the Davidson community have relatives buried in Lowdnes Cemetery at the end of Bulow Road which intersects with the main road through the community. There’s also a boat landing at the end of the road where Blacks and whites who live there have fished for generations.

Bulow Road is the site of the new Poplar Grove housing subdivision. Its developer, Vic Mills, is beginning the next phase of construction for the development. A swimming pool and clubhouse are planned for construction directly in front of the cemetery used for generations by residents of the traditional Black neighborhood that will be surrounded by the Bulow Landing residential development on the Rantowles Creek waterfront.

The developer also wants to put up a gate across Bulow Road that will prevent them from going to the cemetery and the boat landing at the end of the road.

Davidson residents want to coexist with the development that is changing their once isolated rural community. The controversy between the residents and the developer is another example of how development around the Lowcountry sometimes places profits before people, said Brown.

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