Development in West Ashley around Bees Ferry Road has been dominated by multifamily growth — a trend the city of Charleston planning director said the city wasn’t expecting when development of annexed areas began in the late 1990s.
“Years ago, the assumption was that there was going to be a huge amount of retail demand,” said Christopher Morgan, planning director for Charleston. “There are a couple of new multifamily developments right near West Ashley High School on the Glen McConnell Parkway that are on properties that are zoned general business.”
Morgan said that general business in the city allows for 26 units per acre for residential, and the market has responded. Developers who might have invested time and money into office buildings 20 years ago are often choosing multifamily construction.
Early major multifamily developments included Grand Oaks Plantation, built in the late 1990s that added more than 1,400 homes with an entrance from Bees Ferry Road; Hunt Club, built in the early 2000s with approximately 500 homes also off Bees Ferry Road and Carolina Bay, an 1,800-home multifamily development five minutes from Bees Ferry Road.
Smaller multifamily developments currently in the works, according to Morgan, include 38 single-family lots at Verbena Lane and Apiary Lane at the end of U.S. Highway 17 and Bees Ferry Road. Developers recently announced 55 single-family homes off of U.S. 17 on Hughes Lane near the 17 and Bees Ferry Road intersection.
Multifamily development is occurring on both sides of U.S. Highway 17 in the area. Palisades of Charleston apartments, with several hundred units, is nearing completion near the intersection of Main Road and U.S. 17.
Support retail has followed the rooftops and includes a number of grocery stores, including Publix, Harris Teeter and Lowe’s Food stores.
With demand from multifamily developments comes with the need for improved road infrastructure. Major road widening projects are in the works to keep up with the number of cars on U.S. 17, Main Road and Bees Ferry Road thoroughfares.
In 2016, road improvement projects were identified by Charleston County to be paid for with the transportation half-cent sales tax. Considered “a project of regional significance,” per county documents, the $195 million road improvements could include a flyover at U.S. Highway 17 at Main Road and widening Main Road from Bees Ferry Road to Betsy Kerrison Parkway.
The first improvement will be for U.S. 17 and Main Road intersection improvements and Main Road improvements from Bees Ferry Road to River Road. Right of way plans for the first segment were expected to be complete at the end of 2020.
Bob Nuttall, managing principal and founder of Lee & Associates Charleston, said road improvement projects move at a considerably slower pace than private development. Nuttall, who specializes in office, retail, industrial, land and investment products, said a better solution to keep road congestion down would be to build denser multifamily developments with neighborhood retail.
“Any private development could go from zero to done in under 24 months, but any government project is going to be three times that long, if not longer,” Nuttall said. “The office, the retail, the warehouse, the multifamily — all that’s being built faster than any roads can ever keep up with, but I think that higher density is one way to help solve that problem.”
Nuttall said there’s no stopping the influx of people moving to the Lowcountry, but higher-density multifamily development, where units are built taller above a ground-floor level of retail and commercial spaces or neighborhood commercial spaces where residents can walk to without getting in their cars is a way to curb road congestion.
“There’s only two directions that you can grow in an area like Charleston — up or out. So, you either have to do the higher density stuff, like what’s happening on Morrison Drive, which I think is the right move, or build out wider,” Nuttall said. “The Glen McConnell Parkway expansion opened the opportunity for easy ingress and egress. And now it’s this kind of gangbusters. People are talking about how Bees Ferry Road already has so much traffic on it at peak times.”
Nuttall said is encouraged by the Medical University of South Carolina moving a clinic into the Citadel Mall in West Ashley and Roper St. Francis opening an Express Care in the area. He said that keeps needed services nearby, which reduces commute times.
He said West Ashley could benefit from beautifying its roads, similar to road beautification surrounding Park Circle in North Charleston.
“There really doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive plan (for West Ashley),” Nuttall said. “If there was more density, people wouldn’t have to drive so far to get places and do things. The city of Charleston really wants to grow, and I think it’s a great spot for them to embrace it.”