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South Carolina has 35 barrier islands (also called sea islands,) more than any other state except Florida. Barrier islands run paralle...
South Carolina has 35 barrier islands (also called sea islands,) more than any other state except Florida. Barrier islands run parallel to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and shield the mainland from the brunt of sea storms. The islands are home to wide sandy beaches, sea grass beds, vegetated uplands, and Lowcountry marshes.
At 84 square miles in area, St. Johns is the largest Island in South Carolina. Located in Charleston County, it’s the fourth largest island on the East Coast. Situated between the city of Charleston and the barrier island beaches that border the Atlantic Coast, a portion of the island is located within the city limits of Charleston.
Technically an island, yet not bordered by the open sea, the Stono and Kiawah Rivers are what separates Johns Island from its border islands and the mainland.
Colonialists arrived on Johns Island from English settlements in the Caribbean and named it after Saint John Parish in Barbados. However, Native American tribes, including the Stono, Bohicket, and Kiawah Indians, were already living on the island.
The settlers brought the crop, indigo, from Barbados and cultivated it in the Lowcountry of Johns Island. By the mid-1700s, indigo became the main export for the island. A popular bright blue dye, indigo grown on Johns Island was commonly sold to England. During the height of indigo production, the Stono Rebellion occurred. The settlers relied on slaves to grow and produce their crops. In 1739, a group of slaves on Johns Island rebelled and attempted to escape to Florida, which was under the rule of the Spanish at the time.
However, the uprising was unsuccessful and plantation owners captured the slaves before they could reach freedom. During the Revolutionary War, the British market for indigo was disrupted, and England began to turn to India for its indigo supply. By the 1800s, indigo was no longer listed as a crop for Johns Island.
Johns Island has been the site of several important historical events. Occupied by British troops during the Revolutionary War, Johns Island also endured the Battle of Bloody Bridge during the Civil War. Today, visitors can view the historical site marking the Civil War battle at the Burdens Causeway.
Currently, Johns Island has a population of 21,500 and growing. The nearness of downtown Charleston, the beautiful scenery of the Lowcountry, and the nearby sandy beaches of the barrier islands make Johns Island a popular spot for new development.
Today, Johns Island is known for local farmers’ markets, historical parks, and towering oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Although new developments are cropping up on the island, about 75% of the island remains rural with agricultural and horse farms, large acreage estates, and waterfront communities. Just a few miles south is the resort community of Kiawah Island.
One of the main attractions on Johns Island is the Angel Oak, a live oak tree that is thought to be the largest living oak tree east of the Mississippi River. Estimated to be around 400 years old, it’s the oldest tree in South Carolina. The massive tree is 65 feet tall and 25.5 feet around. Further, it provides shade to a staggering 17,000 square foot area. Surrounding the tree is a small park with a visitor’s center and a gift shop.
Another popular activity on the island is shopping at the Freshfields Village, an open-air shopping center with over 30 shops, numerous restaurants, and a boutique hotel.
The Goatery at Kiawah River is a small artisan goat dairy farm specializing in goat cheese and soaps. The farm offers private tours, classes for children, and goat yoga. The farm also doubles as a goat sanctuary, offering many goats a forever home.
Johns Island is in between Charleston and the barrier islands. It’s surrounded by Kiawah, Seabrook, Wadmalaw, Edisto, James, and Folly Islands. The Stono and Kiawah Rivers separate Johns Island from the mainland and the barrier islands.
Johns Island is teeming with wildlife. Although there are many homes, shops, and restaurants on the island, much of the land remains undeveloped, providing habitat for numerous species. On the island, it’s common to see deer, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, otters, wild hogs, and even alligators.
The rivers and marshes on the island are abundant with oysters, trout, black sea bass, bluefish, and bottlenose dolphins. Birds found in the area include many species such as osprey, bald eagles, wild turkeys, and egrets.
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The marshy edges of the Charleston peninsula and its surrounding islands were long viewed as opportune sites to dump debris and add developable land mass to a city surrounded by water.But that attitude has shifted in recent decades as concerns over sea-level rise and loss of native plants and animals take focus. That’s why a proposal to build a bridge over a largely untouched marsh on Johns Island caught nearby residents off guard.“It was astounding to me,” said John Zlogar, chairman of the Johns Island Task F...
The marshy edges of the Charleston peninsula and its surrounding islands were long viewed as opportune sites to dump debris and add developable land mass to a city surrounded by water.
But that attitude has shifted in recent decades as concerns over sea-level rise and loss of native plants and animals take focus. That’s why a proposal to build a bridge over a largely untouched marsh on Johns Island caught nearby residents off guard.
“It was astounding to me,” said John Zlogar, chairman of the Johns Island Task Force. The group was established a decade ago to bring together residents and local officials to address Johns Island-specific issues.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will review an application from property owner Michael Blanchard to build a bridge connecting his piece of land on a narrow island in Pennys Creek, a tributary of the Stono River, to the mainland of Johns Island. The property is zoned to allow up to 40 single-family homes, but Blanchard has not submitted any formal plans to the city yet. The lot has been in his family since the 1940s but until now, no one has had the financial means to both develop it and build a bridge to it, he said.
“We’d like to put some houses on it,” he said. “Heck, I would live out there if I could.”
Building a bridge would connect his 60-acre property to an existing neighborhood made up of two roads and about 200 townhomes off of River Road. An extension of one of those roads, Fenwick Planation Road, would be required for drivers to access the bridge. And Blanchard already has an easement there because his family previously owned the land across Pennys Creek as well.
But using that easement would result in what resident Candice Losego calls, “an eyesore.”
“It would go right against my backyard,” she said.
A view that currently gives way to marsh grass, seabirds and the occasional herd of deer, would be obstructed by a 33-foot-wide bridge the length of 1½ football fields.
Losego and other residents of the neighborhood have been rallying supporters to call for DHEC to host a public hearing on the proposal.
Because DHEC has received over 20 requests for a hearing, officials said they will host one on Johns Island but have not set a date and time yet. At the hearing, residents will have an opportunity to share comments about the proposal before DHEC reviews the application.
As of now, Blanchard’s lot is inaccessible.
The nearest road to Blanchard’s property on the island, Rushland Landing Road, runs perpendicular to it and leads to a bridge connecting to Johns Island. Between Blanchard’s land and Rushland Landing Road is a piece of property owned by S.C. Department of Transportation that stretches the width of the island, isolating Blanchard’s lot.
Residents and environmental advocates would prefer Blanchard get an easement from the S.C. Department of Transportation to access Rushland Landing Road instead of building another bridge.
“The applicant does not appear to have detailed why this is an infeasible route for access,” a comment submitted to DHEC by the Coastal Conservation League states.
DOT bought the property adjacent to Blanchard’s in 2019 in anticipation of the department’s plan to extend Interstate 526 and link West Ashley, Johns Island and James Island. As a part of the larger project, the department plans to build a connector through its property on the small island in Pennys Creek.
Charleston Chief Resiliency Officer Dale Morris said that if the project gets the go-ahead, it would make more sense for Blanchard to try to tie into the proposed connector that would run though the island and use it as the main access point to his property rather than attempt to build his own bridge.
“The Dutch Dialogues would say, ‘have as little of a touch on the marsh there as you can,’” Morris said, referring to a yearlong flood-management research program the city underwent in 2019. “Using the I-526 opportunity to access that land would be better than building that bridge.”
But the full project has stalled somewhat due to eye-popping cost estimates that most recently landed at $2.2 billion. While the agency works to fill funding gaps, any property DOT bought in preparation for the effort sits in limbo.
Blanchard said if he had his way, he wouldn’t have to build a bridge at all.
“If we can get access to Rushland Landing Road, we would give up on the bridge in a heartbeat,” he said.
A statement from DOT said granting access to the property is “not possible,” due to the myriad government agencies involved in the I-526 project. The agency is also not obligated to grant access to Blanchard because it had been landlocked long before DOT bought the property, the statement read.
Whether the bridge plans materialize or not, Blanchard will likely face fresh opposition should he choose to develop his property.
New developments in sensitive areas such as Pennys Creek are in murky territory when it comes to city regulations.
What is currently legal may not be legal a few years from now.
That’s because Charleston officials are currently crafting a Comprehensive Water Plan and a new zoning code for the entire city. When those documents are complete, developers will have a new set of standards to follow. And those could restrict how much building happens in low-lying areas, especially along a marsh.
“We have to turn those concepts and goals into a zoning ordinance and language,” Morris said. “Once we do that we will have more control over how and where development can occur.”
But without new zoning laws in place, the city is facing an uphill battle managing the drainage needs of both old and new neighborhoods.
Upstream from Pennys Creek, Charleston is pursuing a $12 million drainage project around the Barberry Woods Development. The city plans to restore 25-acres of wetlands around the flood-prone neighborhood for use as a public park and natural drainage tool. The open space will help absorb stormwater that eventually runs into Pennys Creek and then the Stono River. The last thing the city needs, Morris said, is another bridge disrupting that process.
There’s a new red light on Maybank Highway, and new Charleston County Councilman Joe Boykin hears about it. Every. Single. Day.Because, make no mistake, traffic is the undisputed heavyweight chokepoint of contention on Johns Island.“A lot of folks are upset; they can’t get on and off the island,” Boykin says. “You think it’s bad now — there are 1,300 homes planned or under construction around there. Wait ’til all that drops.”Yep, that’s the thing — the isl...
There’s a new red light on Maybank Highway, and new Charleston County Councilman Joe Boykin hears about it. Every. Single. Day.
Because, make no mistake, traffic is the undisputed heavyweight chokepoint of contention on Johns Island.
“A lot of folks are upset; they can’t get on and off the island,” Boykin says. “You think it’s bad now — there are 1,300 homes planned or under construction around there. Wait ’til all that drops.”
Yep, that’s the thing — the island can’t wait any longer for traffic relief. Residents have been waiting, largely in idling cars, for years now.
Johns Island’s chronic congestion — and dysfunction — has spread over time, and overwhelms James Island and West Ashley with tens of thousands of commuters daily. Sometimes the drive-by traffic shuts down the grid west of the Ashley River.
See: Savannah Highway and Main Road, Interstate 526 and Sam Rittenberg, Maybank and Folly Road, et al.
There are various solutions to this problem planned, but land disputes, jurisdictional spats, environmental concerns, the threat of lawsuits and rising construction costs have slowed many of those projects. It’s a mess.
Of course, politics is behind some of the paralysis. Nobody can agree on anything these days, especially what needs to be done about Johns Island growth … and its infrastructure.
It’s really about an island with an exploding population that has exactly two routes on and off it. You could call that poor planning, but plans for a third route have been in the works for years. But that’s another story.
So here we are.
There is some reason for hope, however. On Thursday, county and city traffic engineers — along with Boykin, County Council Vice Chairwoman Jenny Honeycutt and City Councilman Karl Brady — sat down in Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s office to talk about more collaboration between the two local governments to get various road projects moving.
Which is a good sign, because in the past the two haven’t always seen eye to eye.
At Boykin’s request, County Council recently pledged to work more closely with the city on Johns Island traffic.
And a unanimous vote from a City Council committee last week affirmed its commitment to the same.
Most significantly, City Council gave initial consent to a fourth lane to Maybank Highway between River Road and the bridge to James Island. Right now, much of that stretch is restricted to a single outbound lane that at times is ridiculously overwhelmed.
The City Council resolution is notable because, years ago, Charleston held up county plans to widen Maybank — largely because officials didn’t want to sacrifice trees for additional lanes.
But in the past two years, the traffic count on Maybank has gone up by 6,000 cars per day, to a new high of more than 35,000. For comparison, about 45,000 cross the Wappoo bridge.
The agreement to widen Maybank Highway is a good start, because it’ll ease the bottleneck that builds up ahead of the bridge to James Island. Boykin says if that can be done without sacrificing any trees, it will be.
That’s a big deal but, frankly, just having the city and county in accord is bigger.
“I believe we have a newfound, unprecedented level of cooperation and commitment to improving the traffic at River and Maybank,” Tecklenburg says. “We’re looking at temporary and long-term ways to get two lanes from River Road to the bridge. We’re going to update the traffic plan, which should take about a month. We’re going to do whatever the Department of Transportation will allow.”
Because, remember, the state technically owns all these roads.
Commute times don’t yet reflect it, but there’s already some movement.
The county’s northern pitchfork is under construction — that new traffic signal at Maybank and Fenwick Hall Allee (the one Boykin is getting calls about) is in place because that’s where the pitchfork will meet the highway.
The problem has been the light’s timing. As any traffic engineer will tell you, when a road is that hopelessly over capacity, it’s difficult to sync it.
The next challenge will be building the southern pitchfork, which Boykin says is key to alleviating congestion on that side of the island. And it’s needed whether or not 526 gets finished.
That’s one thing the county and city, which secured land for the southern leg a few years back, will study in the coming months.
As Boykin and Tecklenburg note, the tines of the pitchfork need to align because yet another traffic light on that stretch of Maybank is simply not an option.
Neither is allowing Johns Island’s congestion to fester any longer.
There are several powerful reasons why Seabrook Island Town Council should reject a proposed annexation that would pave the way for a new boat dock, private clubhouse, boathouse, pool house and 10 rental cottages near the town’s northern limits.The additional boat and car traffic would create more congestion on Betsy Kerrison Parkway in particular and Johns Island in general, as well as more pollution to the otherwise pristine Bohicket Creek. But the biggest reason Town Council should reject the 18-acre annexation is the dangero...
There are several powerful reasons why Seabrook Island Town Council should reject a proposed annexation that would pave the way for a new boat dock, private clubhouse, boathouse, pool house and 10 rental cottages near the town’s northern limits.
The additional boat and car traffic would create more congestion on Betsy Kerrison Parkway in particular and Johns Island in general, as well as more pollution to the otherwise pristine Bohicket Creek. But the biggest reason Town Council should reject the 18-acre annexation is the dangerous precedent it would set, a precedent that would erode the rural character of southern Johns Island.
Decades ago, local governments, led by the city of Charleston and Charleston County, agreed on an urban growth boundary across Johns Island and other areas. The big idea was to ensure their zoning and other policies were synchronized to allow suburban development to continue to spread, but only up to a point, beyond which the existing rural nature would be preserved. The boundary has generally worked well, but as with so much other conservation work, it needs to be embraced and reaffirmed by each new generation.
Seabrook Island’s potential move would mark one of the first and most dramatic annexations by a municipality into the rural portion of the island; if it succeeds, it almost assuredly wouldn’t be the last, and it could hasten the unraveling of the boundary line — and increase development pressures on the shrinking amount of land on the rural side of the boundary.
Robby Maynor of the Coastal Conservation League agrees that annexing and rezoning this property on the rural side of the urban growth boundary would set a disastrous precedent on the county’s Sea Islands and could lead to annexation battles such as those that are playing out along the most rural stretches of the upper Ashley River, whose rural historic district remains in jeopardy from encroaching homes, stores and the traffic they bring. Approving the marina project would be “like kicking an anthill and hoping you don’t get bit,” he says.
The case that the property’s owner and other supporters have made for the annexation is that it would give Seabrook Island future control of the site and limit future development there, according to reporter Warren Wise. But the proposal appears to us as designed to facilitate development, not to curb it. Annexing the site, which is next to Bohicket Marina, would allow it to tie into the town’s sewer system.
Unfortunately, Seabrook Island’s Planning Commission has recommended annexing the site and rezoning it for a mixed-used development. We urge Town Council members to reject that move when they consider the matter Aug. 22.
As Mr. Wise noted, the project is a scaled-down version of a 30-year-old Andell Harbor project that state environmental regulators rightly and mercifully rejected. While this is smaller, with only about 4 acres of development near the creek and the rest set aside for open space, it still would represent an unwelcome and disturbing encroachment into the rural area between the barrier islands of Kiawah and Seabrook and the suburban growth from the city of Charleston.
Last year, we urged elected officials, neighborhood leaders and planners with Charleston County and the two beach towns to come up with a mutually agreed-upon overlay for their shared area at the southern tip of Johns Island. That overlay should guide future development toward the kinds of uses — and the sizes and scale — residents of all three jurisdictions would most like to see, and help address growing real estate pressures in a way residents prefer. We repeat the call for regional cooperation, and Seabrook Island’s rejection of this annexation would be an important first step.
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JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - A new traffic light on Johns Island has caused a stir for people who live and drive through the area.The light, located at Maybank Highway and Fenwick Hall Allee, was installed Tuesday. After just one day, officials with the City of Charleston have received calls from people who drive through the area frustrated that traffic on Maybank Highway has gotten even worse.“They’ve been steady coming from us. As well, they’ve been going to the DOT, and Charleston County as well,” Robe...
JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - A new traffic light on Johns Island has caused a stir for people who live and drive through the area.
The light, located at Maybank Highway and Fenwick Hall Allee, was installed Tuesday. After just one day, officials with the City of Charleston have received calls from people who drive through the area frustrated that traffic on Maybank Highway has gotten even worse.
“They’ve been steady coming from us. As well, they’ve been going to the DOT, and Charleston County as well,” Robert Somerville, director of the City of Charleston’s department of traffic and transportation said. “We are aware and we’re working on it. We just ask for your patience and we will get it figured out.”
This signal was part of the Northern Pitchfork project. Somerville said with concerns about safety involving drivers exiting out of Fenwick Hall Allee they decided to install a temporary signal before the mast arms were ready to be completed.
Since activating the signal Tuesday, Somerville said they found there is a problem within the corridor that affects the timing from Headquarters Plantation to River Road. They’ve had technicians from the city and DOT at the location to try to get the issue figured out.
“This is a safety project,” Somerville said. “We’ve had numerous accidents at that intersection so I believe this signal will be the best thing for Maybank Highway and Fenwick Allee in the long run.”
For Dan Kinne, who lives near the traffic light, the new signal is allowing him to breathe a little easier.
“You used to take your life in your hands when you were coming out of there and turning left onto Maybank or coming home on Maybank turning left onto Fenwick Hall,” Kinne said. “I’m lucky we never got hit.”
People have taken to social media to complain about an increase in traffic on Maybank Highway.
Katelyn Robinson commutes to Johns Island every day to take her daughter to school. She said it takes her 10 minutes to take her daughter to school, but an hour to get home.
“It’s affecting everybody’s sanity and their drive to work in the morning,” Robinson said. “They have a livelihood they have to keep up, they have jobs they have to get to, kids they have to drop off, things they have to do in the morning.”
Somerville said the permanent signal will be ready to be installed in about a year. For now, he is asking for patience.
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