The Convenience Conundrum

We live in a world where all of the knowledge of the world is a few keystrokes away on a device that we can carry around in our pocket. Anything you can imagine can be ordered and delivered to your door within two days. There is a near-infinite amount of streaming content to entertain us. We know more about “friends” we haven’t seen since college than some of our own family members. Your gourmet coffee maker can brew an individual cup of coffee that’s ready for you when your alarm goes off, your fridge can add milk to your shopping list, an automated robot vacuums your house when you walk out the door, Alexa can adjust the temperature in your house or suggest an umbrella if there is a chance of rain, and your car tells you a better route to take to work because of a wreck. There is an abundance of convenience at our home and in the cities we are surrounded by options for local shopping, dining, entertainment, high-speed internet, cable, employment, schools, housing, and more. We also know that these modern conveniences come at a cost. As we’ve witnessed in nearby Mount Pleasant, which has been one of the fastest growing cities in the US since the downturn in the economy, people flocking to the area to enjoy these conveniences have brought with them a higher cost of living and housing, 24/7 traffic jams, out of control homeowners association rules and costs, and a departure from traditional Southern values.

Just up the road in “L.A.” (that’s Lower Awendaw), residents get a taste of affordable houses with a little space between them and their neighbors with just a short drive to many of these aforementioned conveniences. The farther you drive north, the farther these conveniences get and the more often I am asked by buyers “Where do you do your grocery shopping?”, “What is internet service like?”, or “What do people around here do for fun?”. These are fair questions. Questions from someone who has lived a life of convenience. My wife was one such person who gave me a puzzled look when I explained that where I grew up I had to drive 30 minutes to see a movie or buy groceries and she’s now called McClellanville home since 2006. These type of questions really get to the heart of measuring the conveniences of someone’s current life to an unknown life they may experience if they decide to pull the trigger and move outside of the hustle and bustle of city life.

I’ll be the first to admit that this “alternative lifestyle” is not for everyone. If you can’t survive without a Starbucks umbilical cord, it may be a rough transition. It took my wife some time to adjust after living in a city her whole life. Buyers willing to step outside of their comfort zone and discover true country life in Awendaw, McClellanville, and the surrounding rural areas, begin to learn that there is more to life than modern conveniences. When you skip the drive-thru window and sit down in a local restaurant you meet neighbors and form lasting relationships. When you stop cutting down every tree in sight to build homes you start co-existing with nature and witness it in your own back yard. When you get rid of all the traffic you can actually enjoy the peace and quiet and make it more enjoyable to walk, bike, or even take a golf cart for a spin. When your beaches are only accessible by boat you find a sanctuary with miles of uninhabited shell-covered beaches for yourself. When you trade your planned parks and paved “nature trails” for hundreds of thousands of acres of protected forests you witness the glory of nature. When you’re out of sugar or eggs you ask your neighbor rather than going to the store. You take a step toward self-sufficiency where conveniences take a back seat to things, meaning-of-life kind of things, that you might have missed if you were sitting at the drive-thru or staring at a phone.

I’ll leave you with this final thought that I enjoy sharing with visitors to the area that may sound odd coming from a real estate agent trying to “sell the area”: Nobody HAS to live in McClellanville! There is no Boeing or Volvo factory attracting workers that have to live nearby. Housing isn’t incredibly affordable and there isn’t a fantastic public transportation system ready to whisk them to work. Our school system isn’t ranked #1 in the country (but check out CREECS, we love it). There are even times that the mosquitoes will dang near carry you off (rare, but it happens). If we “solved” all of those problems, we wouldn’t be the unique community that we are today. You see, it’s these inconveniences that help us keep it just the way we like it. It sorts out the people who can truly appreciate everything that the area has to offer and place a higher value on these resources. These people, whether they were born here or just moved here yesterday, are the key to fighting for its preservation for future generations.

Growth and the Future of The Bulls Bay Area to be Determined by Awendaw

Fear of growth and development is on the minds of Bulls Bay area residents as urban sprawl creeps outward from Mount Pleasant (watch the growth of the area using the Growth Tool below). Builder D.R. Horton has begun work on their latest development known as Bee’s Crossing which plans to squeeze 90 homes onto 32 acres. While the postal service originally issued this area an Awendaw zip code, it has long been annexed by the Town of Mount Pleasant and is located in what is now commonly called “North Mount Pleasant”. Traveling further north, you encounter the low-density communities of Sewee Preserve followed by the Bulls Bay Golf Club. This is the farthest property annexed by the Town of Mount Pleasant and the beginning of the Town of Awendaw, the proverbial line in the sand.

Mt. Pleasant has recently passed legislation limiting the number and type of building permits that will be issued each year. Those fed-up with the growth of Mount Pleasant (every one that I have talked to) see it as too little, too late. While it will have a slight effect on slowing growth in their area, Awendaw may actually be more affected by the passage of this bill. Developers that were perfectly content with continuing to squeeze housing projects into the few remaining spaces in Mt. Pleasant are going to have to sideline some projects for future years and look outside of Mt. Pleasant for greener pastures. The abundant land in Awendaw seems to be just what they are looking for.

Awendaw’s residential zoning hinges on the presence of public water or sewage which permits a minimum lot size as small as 0.29 acres while it reverts to 0.69 acres without them. The Town of Awendaw has put in place a small public water system with lines running outward from its town hall water tower. To make the project financially feasible it must really be scaled to many more customers. Public sewage has also been discussed with the latest negotiations to incorporate the system in with the building of public schools and a residential development and have the final treated effluent dispersed in the town’s park.

The difficulty of public utilities in Awendaw lies in its decentralized rural nature. While McClellanville formed along the banks of Jeremy Creek and grew outward gradually as a more centralized community, Awendaw has large swaths of the Francis Marion National Forest slicing through it. There is also a large amount of land which has been strategically preserved from development through the placement of conservation easements. However, there also exist numerous large acreage tracts that have been patiently growing pine trees and waiting for the demand that seems to be building.

Developers have broken ground on a new development called Awendaw Village. The proposed 1/2 acre lots sparked concern but on closer inspection, the overall density of the community turns out to be less than 1 home for every two acres because of green spaces and wetlands. The developer is beginning with just 14 of 41 planned homes in the first phase. Chalk it up as a “win” for the type of controlled growth that could maintain the rural way of life, but this hundred-acre tract is dwarfed in comparison to some of the larger undeveloped parcels. If any of these other tracts were allowed to be developed at close to 1/4 acre-sized home sites it could double the population of the town and forever transform the rural face of Awendaw. Most of the residents that I know are opposed to this transformation and taking a stand against the uncontrolled growth they witnessed in Mount Pleasant. Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Coastal Conservation League have also joined in to prevent disruption in this keystone community situated between the National Forest and the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge.

Aerial Shot of Awendaw Village under construction

In contrast to Awendaw’s zoning, unincorporated Charleston County surrounding Bulls Bay provides for mostly 1 home for every 1 to 10 acres and the Town of McClellanville allows for only 1 home per acre or 3/4 acre in the Historic District. McClellanville is also blissfully encumbered by its geographic distance from the growth of the Charleston Metro area and separated by larger undevelopable tracts of the Francis Marion National Forest. The residents, town council, and mayor are unified with a preservationist mindset and a consolidated effort to reject public sewer and water, multi-family and high-density zoning. There are certainly some larger tracts of land that will be subdivided and vacant lots between homes which have slowly been filling in with homes, but the underlying zoning and mood of the community working together gives hope against it losing its small-town feeling.