Residents upset with plans for a $60 million mixed-use development on Forest Drive are taking to social media to “Save Forest Acres.”
Or, at least that’s the name of a Facebook page where neighbors have shared their concerns for the project, planned for the former Cardinal Newman School site on the busy, shop-lined Forest Drive corridor.
The project’s plans include nearly 300 apartment units and a shopping center to be filled with local, small-scale restaurants and boutique shops. The Beach Co. of Charleston is set to request the Forest Acres planning panel’s approval for the project on Tuesday.
The Facebook page, set up in late November, appears to constitute the first organized opposition to the project, though some residents expressed their doubts about “Forest Acres Village Square” on Nov. 9, when The Beach Co. held a town hall meeting to unveil the plans.
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More than 100 Forest Acres residents attended that meeting, which started with grumbles from the crowd, but ended with applause, and some residents saying the presentation had won their approval.
Ned Miller, development manager at The Beach Co., told the crowd then the project was designed to create a “great village gathering spot” with a “welcoming, walkable neighborhood feel.”
But Forest Acres residents have complained on the Facebook page that Forest Drive already is too busy, posting photos of traffic and car accidents on the street. That stretch of Forest Drive has been maligned for its traffic issues, including speeding cars, dangerous left turns and badly timed traffic lights.
“We must address the current traffic concerns of Forest Drive before we commit to a large project that will place excessive traffic demands on Forest Drive!” the page manager, who is unidentified, said in one post. Efforts to reach the page manager were unsuccessful.
Anne Reamer, whose father, William Carroll, died in February after a vehicle crash on Forest Drive near the proposed project site, is among those who have posted to the page. Reamer said in a Facebook post after her father’s death that she would “make it my mission in life to make Forest Drive a safer place.”
Reamer said her main concern with the project is traffic, which she said is now bleeding into nearby neighborhoods as drivers look to bypass Forest Drive. Reamer, who lives in Forest Acres, said it already is hard enough to drive to and from small shops on Forest Drive. She said she worries customers eventually will avoid the area and its congestion.
“It could be a big nightmare,” Reamer said.
Courtney Hamilton, another Forest Acres resident, said she shares Reamer’s concerns about traffic. Hamilton said she “liked” the page as soon as she saw it, then invited her neighbors to it so they could join in on the discussion.
“Traffic is already horrible,” Hamilton said. “I can’t even imagine adding more.”
The Beach Co. is aware of the Facebook page, which currently has more than 420 “likes,” but does not know who is behind it, Miller said. The developer created a webpage, titled “Forest Acres Update,” to explain its plans for the project and for handling traffic on Forest Drive, among other concerns.
Miller said the development would come with traffic mitigation, including a second left-hand turn lane on Forest Drive and Trenholm Road, where traffic sometimes backs up as cars wait to turn. The timing at a nearby traffic light would be adjusted to facilitate left-hand turns out of the proposed development, Miller said.
Miller said he expects the development to bring about 3,000 more cars daily to Forest Drive. But the included traffic mitigation would offset that impact and, possibly, improve traffic flow, he said. About 27,000 cars currently travel the road each day.
Miller said he welcomes questions from residents — his contact information is on the website — and hopes to have a “positive conversation” about the plans.
“You can’t satisfy everybody, but we feel pretty good about the support coming from that meeting and some of the people since then,” Miller said.
Commenters on the page also have urged one another to contact members of Forest Acres City Council and City Administrator Mark Williams to explain their concerns.
Some council members said they have heard from handfuls of residents, most of whom worry about traffic on Forest Drive. Mayor Frank Brunson said he understands those concerns, but that even leaving the Cardinal Newman site undeveloped would not fix Forest Drive’s traffic problems.
“We’re way, way past being able to control traffic,” Brunson said. “Somebody should have thought about that years ago.”
Councilwoman Ginger Dukes said residents should be patient and form their opinions only after hearing all the facts. The planning panel meeting on Tuesday as well as a potential future city council hearing will provide ample forums for that, she said.
Andy Smith, Forest Acres’ assistant city administrator, said the council could conduct its first reading on the project’s plans as early as February.
If you go
WHAT: Forest Acres Planning Commission meeting
WHEN: 6 p.m. on Jan. 5
WHERE: Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 3909 Forest Drive
Wanted: Cardinal Newman memories, photos
Some 50 years ago, Cardinal Newman High School opened its doors to students at its location on Forest Drive.
Today, an apartment complex and a shopping center are proposed for the site. The school will be moving to its new location in Northeast Richland this month.
We are seeking readers’ memories and photographs of the Forest Drive facility. Were you a student there? Did you work there? And what were your memories of the place? Email contributing columnist Salley McInerney at salley.mac@gmail .com.