The Ponds Situation

Dorchester County Council District 7 includes several neighborhoods, including The Ponds which we’ve called home for the past seven years. It was sold to residents on the promise of 1,100 acres of preserved nature conservancy, 10+ miles of natural trails, a Village Center that would become the “economic, social, and cultural hub of the community” and more. Today, all of that is in jeopardy thanks to a County Council voting this April to approve a Mediation Settlement Agreement (MSA) between Kolter Homes and Dorchester County. Our current council representatives, Jay Byars and Bill Hearn, have yet to stand up for the residents of District 7 and hold the developer accountable to their 17 year old Development Agreement. This was a key reason why I hope to collect enough signatures to be placed on November’s ballot for Dorchester County Council District 7, to represent all residents as someone not connected to the housing industry, developers, or traditional political networks rampant in the South.

WHAT HAPPENED?

My family moved to The Ponds in 2016 and things were quiet, beyond not yet having a promised second pool there were no major issues with the developer that we knew of. However, in the summer of 2020 they first attempted to drastically alter their 2005 Development Agreement (DA) between Kolter Homes (KH Ponds LLLP) and Dorchester County by proposing a set of 36 amendments. The Ponds residents had a strong County Council advocate in George Bailey, and he listened to residents concerns and worked to hold Kolter Homes in good faith compliance to their DA contract. In 2022, Mr. Bailey is now retiring and county redistricting has given us to new County Council representatives. In April 2022 they voted to approve a Mediation Settlement Agreement (MSA) which rewards Kolter Homes for violating their DA contract with more land, more homes to build and sell at the expense of the county and all its residents.

The new agreement was a result of court-ordered mediation after Kolter Homes appealed phase denials as they were warned might happen in the Zoning Director’s February 2021 Compliance Notice Letter. In their April 18, 2022 meeting, County Council voted to approve a Mediation Settlement Agreement (MSA) and the judge approved it. A final set of amendments must be created based on the terms of the MSA before they can be incorporated into the Development Agreement/Planned Development contract. Per The Ponds Mediation Agreement Update page, the next steps are:

“The changes agreed to in the Mediation Agreement will need to be formally incorporated into the Development Agreement and Planned Development Document. The Development Agreement will be reviewed by County Council over the course of three readings and will include two public hearings. The Planned Development document will be reviewed first by the Planning Commission for a recommendation before moving to County Council for three readings, with a public hearing held by the Planning, Development and Building Committee. It is anticipated that these submittals will appear on agendas in late spring/early summer. “

There is a lot more history leading up to this point, but this is where we stand today. If you wish to learn more about the events leading up to the MSA I am happy to share, simply send me a message to ask.

WHERE I STAND REGARDING THE DA & MSA

WE WANT TO BE HEARD

The Ponds residents have invested a collective half-BILLION dollars in their homes, that’s four times the county’s annual budget. Yet we have been left out of the conversations to amend the 17 year old Development Agreement. We believed the county had our backs, but in April they turned their backs on us (minus our steadfast ally, George Bailey). We simply ask to take our concerns seriously, for the county to visit us, have a two-way conversation with us, SERVE US as our elected representatives are supposed to. Appearances today indicate that the county has caved to developers in allowing even more over development and destruction of our priceless natural habitats.

If the county allows Kolter Homes to bully their way through approving their amendments using high dollar lawyers and threats, it will open Pandora’s Box for every other developer in Dorchester County by setting the precedent that developers can do what they want as long as they have good lawyers and enough money.

WHAT WE CAN AGREE ON

First, let me start with the one thing we agree on, and that’s the removal of the apartments requirement. In 2005 it made sense to require multi-family housing because there was none in the area—at that time. Today, adjacent to The Ponds are Summer Wind Apartments and the Palms at Edgewater, boasting over 500 units, with Hawthorne at Summerville Apartments (Central/17-A)adding 100s more. The multi-family requirements in the 2005 Development Agreement are met and exceeded by existing developments. Adding more would oversaturate area needs.

WHAT WE HAVE PROBLEMS WITH
  • NATURE TRAILS: Over ten miles of existing trails were to be maintained in mostly their current locations (see original DA map of the existing 18+ miles of trails in 2005).
  • SCHOOL LAND: DD2 was to be given “up to 40 acres” of land for the purpose of an elementary and middle school, and the expectation has been set for 17 years that all 40 acres would be donated. The MSA gives 27 acres to the County, not DD2, with a promise to reserve the land for DD2 at some point. The remaining 13 acres is given to Kolter for townhomes plus two large soccer fields with dirt parking behind.
    • This 27 acres is cost-prohibitive due to it being bisected by wetlands. Nowhere else in the state are two schools fit onto 27 acres of land. If the school passes on this land the county retains ownership. It appears to be a county land grab to many.
    • If DD2 cannot build two schools on this land, ALL taxpayers in Dorchester County will foot the bill to acquire future school land when they could have had 40 acres 100% free.
    • Two rows of townhomes and a street between are to be built on land with heavy storm water drainage to the wetlands downstream (see Exhibit A). Placing impervious structures threatens the Riparian Corridor and is counter to the Dorchester County Comprehensive Plan.
    • The YMCA currently has 5 soccer fields which are never at capacity to date. There are large soccer fields behind the singular swimming pool area. Two additional soccer fields are NOT needed NOR desired, especially without proper consideration for parking and traffic. It should be noted that Dorchester County recently terminated their longtime lease with Charleston Soccer Club, who was told they would be given priority access to a new facility in the future at a different site. After reading the News 4 article and the CCS Summerville Facility Update by Melissa Britton, where she was allegedly told by council members “now, now, sugar, don’t get your panties in a wad“, one can’t help but wonder if these two events aren’t related somehow.
  • SOCIAL & CULTURAL SPACE: The MSA reduces social & cultural land space by roughly 60 acres, approximately 1/3 of land intended to be part of the open space system. In place of open space for social & cultural use, Kolter is given this additional acreage to clear and build more homes.
  • VILLAGE CENTER: Up to 94 acres was to be used for the creation of a Village Center, described in the DA as “the economic, social and cultural hub of the community. It will focus residents’ lives around a traditional American village experience, rather than the scattered sprawl of post-war suburbia.” The MSA allows Kolter to designate 1.8 acres near the entrance off 17-A for future commercial use with no requirement to build.
    • There is a large commercial need in this area to serve all residents in and around The Ponds. This was envisioned to be a community resource where all county residents could enjoy shopping, parks, and recreation.
    • 98.9% of the potential land reserved for a Village Center is eliminated, bartered away for more Kolter home sales.
    • Kolter is absolved of their requirement to build anything whatsoever, simply to zone less than two acres for commercial and wipe their hands clean of it.
  • ENTRANCE / EXIT: Schultz Lake Road and Old Tower Road were to be emergency exits with EMS access only. The 2005 DA uses an incomplete traffic study to justify allowing only one entrance for 1,950 homes, with no accounting for traffic from the YMCA, two schools, a Village Center, and more. The MSA only requires Schultz Lake Road access from Pottery Circle with no mention of Old Tower Road access.
    • Current county standards are that every new neighborhood have two entry/exit roads. Any new amendments should follow current standards.
    • Residents have been concerned by the number of accidents, near misses, and the difficulty exiting the community during peak hours onto a 50mph highway. SCDOT refuses to lower the speed limit or add a red light. The safest solution would be to create a dedicated second entrance at the rear of the community onto Old Tower Road, easing the burden on the single entrance onto 17-A. Old Tower Road is 1/2 mile to Central Avenue so the cost to bring it up to required standards is not excessive compared to other county road and bridge projects. We do not wish to wait for someone to die at our entrance before the County takes action to address this single point of failure.
  • TOWNHOMES: We recognize the PD requirement for mixed use and agree that townhomes would satisfy this requirement. The placement off Pottery Circle is acceptable. However, the two rows along Lotz Drive are problematic due to storm water drainage concerns (as noted above) and traffic concerns.
    • A proposed solution is to extend Linger Longer Drive across the current detention pond by Parker’s gas station and extent Headwaters Drive in The Ponds to connect. Townhomes could be placed along The Ponds side away from the main Hundred Oaks Parkway traffic and potential storm water drainage impacts to residents homes along Lotz Drive and Phoebe Road in Carillon.
    • This proposed solution also helps solve for the single entrance/exit problem by connecting to and utilizing the existing red light at the intersection of 17-A & Dorchester Road.
  • INCREASED HOMES & DENSITY: The MSA adds 50 more homes AND assumes a 1:1 replacement of high density multi-family doors with lower density single-family homes.
    • It’s clear from the Zoning Director’s February 2021 Compliance Notice Letter that Kolter Homes was not in good faith compliance with the original Development Agreement. They should NOT be rewarded for their failures with millions of dollars worth in additional home sales.
    • Equitable density when swapping multi-family for single-family should reduce the total number of home sites available to build, not increase them.