NEW LOOK FOR LAKE MURRAY?

Are there more apartments coming to Lake Murray?

Development spurs talk of additional projects, but there are a number of hurdles

tflach@thestate.comSeptember 16, 2012 

The first apartment complex rising at Lake Murray is generating discussion on whether it is a sign of more to come.

But several developers and shoreline community leaders say difficulty in finding suitable spots around the lakefront, as well as development controls that limit apartments, likely mean such projects won’t be sprouting soon.

“There’s not many locations conducive to that,” said Joy Downs of the Ballentine area, executive director of the Lake Murray Association. “I don’t see it as a trend.”

Still, some planners leave the door open to more arriving at some point, especially near the dam.

“It can only happen in a handful of places,” said Lexington County planning director Charlie Compton, who oversees development on nearly half of the 650-mile shore. “You may see it.”

The interest in apartments is spurred by the 216-unit complex that developer Ben Arnold is putting up at the former Lake Murray Marina in Ballentine. It is the first on the shoreline, giving most tenants lakefront views. And its arrival is spawning talk that apartments may sprout eventually at two other marinas – Lighthouse in Ballentine and Jakes Landing near Lexington.

Both are comparable in size or larger than the 11.4-acre site on which Arnold’s The Residence at Marina Bay is being built.

But owners of the other two marinas say they aren’t interested in matching what Arnold is doing.

And a pending federal ban on new marinas at the lake makes those now in operation valuable.

“There are no plans for any such thing,” said Bert Pooser III, vice-president of the company that owns Lighthouse.

Archie Trawick, who has run Jakes Landing for nearly 40 years, has no plans to add anything else at the 32-acre site.

“There’s a lot of pressures, but you can do all right if you stay long-term,” he said of running a marina.

So where else might a larger, dense development go?

There are a few tracts of 30 acres or more on side roads off S.C. 6 near the south edge of the dam whose owners are mum on their plans.

Some of the owners sporadically talk with Lexington town officials about extending water and sewer service to the tracts for possible resorts and condominiums. But it’s impossible to predict what may be built there and how soon it could happen, Mayor Randy Halfacre said.

Suggestions that the Columbia Sailing Club would sell its 11.5-acre site near the north edge of the dam – its home for more than 50 years – are “a pipe dream,” said Robert Key, the organization’s treasurer. “We have zero interest in doing that.”

Other factors make it unlikely that many lakefront apartments will blossom rapidly along the 47,500-acre lake:

• Few large tracts allowing an easy commute to work are available at reasonable prices. Those that could be converted would require trips of 45 minutes or more on increasingly congested roads to major employers in the Columbia area, a distance developers say is too far. “It can be a haul,” said Stewart Mungo, whose firm has opened many neighborhoods around the shoreline.

• Protests from neighbors of Arnold’s development led Lexington and Richland counties to adopt restrictions discouraging high-rises and other multi-family projects on the lakeshore.

• Extension of utility service to possible sites promises to be costly.

• Much of the shoreline is rural, lacking amenities and recreation other than boating, swimming and water skiing. Arnold included a restaurant and convenience store for tenants and boaters.

Still, some developers say the future of more apartments will depend on Arnold’s success.

“If it does well, there will be another one,” said Phil Savage, who has developed shoreline neighborhoods and is president of the Ballentine-Dutch Fork Civic Association. “If it doesn’t, there won’t be.”

Other apartments are rising near the lake, but not on the waterfront.

One complex opened a few years ago a few blocks from the north end of the dam, while another is taking shape on I-26 near Arnold’s complex.

Arnold’s project took a decade to crystallize.

Association leaders before Savage negotiated a compromise that paved the way for it after a furor over initial plans for a pair of 14-story condominium towers 10 years ago.

The deal limited development on the site to four stories.

After false starts on condominiums and a look at a hotel, Arnold opted for apartments that he says feature resort-style living similar to that of the oceanfront.

And with a federal ban on new marinas awaiting final approval, Arnold kept 250 boat slips available for public use. Tenants are offered first shot at leasing vacancies as a perk.

Rent at Arnold’s complex ranges from $1,070 to $1,635 monthly, comparable to higher-end complexes in the Midlands and monthly mortgage payments for many homes around the lake. Tenants should start moving in by late October, with the project completed by spring.

Some nearby homeowners remain unhappy, calling the complex a poor fit that will worsen congestion on roads and in coves.

“It’s not a pretty sight,” association secretary Joan Tweed said. “It’s not the right plan to put it there.”

But Arnold, who has developed other Midlands apartments, is optimistic Marina Bay will succeed.

The complex’s decor and design are “way over the top,” Arnold said. “We’re not doing it halfway.”

Like others, he’s uncertain if his project is the start of a wave of similar development at the lake.

Arnold said he’s taking advantage of an opportunity that may seldom occur.

“It’d be hard to replicate this in another location,” he said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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