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North Charleston encourages infill development with an eye toward affordability | News


NORTH CHARLESTON — An old drug store on Reynolds Avenue has been refurbished into a multiuse building. Its current tenants include a political campaign, a crystals store and a barbershop.

Less than 2 miles around the corner, on Spruill Avenue, an old ice distribution center has been redeveloped into office spaces for an architectural studio, real estate company and construction businesses.

A local nonprofit also has plans within the next 18 months to build more than a dozen new affordable homes in the neighborhood.

The projects point to what urban planners and municipalities describe as “infill development,” or the kind of development that focuses on building businesses, homes and infrastructure in existing communities by repurposing old structures or building upon underused land. The idea has gained regional popularity within the past decade as planners seek to combat urban sprawl, or growth that extends farther out into rural areas. 

North Charleston’s centralized location, along with the large number of vacant properties in the city’s older neighborhoods, make it ripe for infill. The challenge is how to bring about successful change while maintaining affordability and ensuring neighborhood residents benefit from the growth.

The city’s overall strategy has been creating projects that attract investment, Mayor Keith Summey said.

Spruill Avenue

People enjoy an outdoor lunch at The Junction on Spruill Avenue on Oct. 14, 2021. Brad Nettles/Staff

In the Chicora-Cherokee community, the city has worked with nonprofit Metanoia to redevelop the neighborhood’s old elementary school into space that would house artist studios and an early childhood education program.

Also, North Charleston would like to see a new senior center constructed on the former tank farm site in Chicora. The community has a number of vacant lots that could be developed as well, Summey said.

The neighborhood has seen challenges over the years. It’s in an area where the median family income sits below $40,000 and where community leaders have long worked to rid the neighborhood of crime. Part of the city’s goal is to help make the community desirable to investors, Summey said.

“It’s about creating the things that draw people to do the infill,” he said.

‘Eye of the hurricane’

Developers believe infill development can be used to combat the urban sprawl that’s particularly being seen in once-rural parts of Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Developers and community leaders argue the traffic has worsened over the years partially due to more people living in subdivisions built farther away from their jobs.

Promoting infill is also cost-effective because it focuses growth toward places with existing infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, said Kathryn Basha, planning director of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments. 

“That’s a cost you don’t have to pass on through the housing,” Basha said.

Spruill Avenue

A new building on Spruill Avenue is ready for tenants on Oct. 14, 2021. Brad Nettles/Staff

While North Charleston has encouraged infill, the city has also extended its borders in recent years with the annexation of thousands of acres west of the Ashley River in Dorchester County. The development, known as Watson Hill, is under construction. The area will feature 1,000 homes. North Charleston’s Finance Committee approved on Oct. 21 a $4.5 million bid from Trident Construction to design and build the community’s new fire station. 

Summey said the city can both focus on expanding its traditional city limits while also filling in the holes that exist throughout the municipality. The increased tax base will help to fund services in other parts of the city, he said.

“That growth helps pay for services that we provide in areas that do not raise enough money to pay for the services,” Summey said.

Infill development should continue to be a top priority because it promotes connectivity by creating jobs and homes within close proximity, said North Charleston developer Ed Sutton.

North Charleston’s Reynolds Avenue is particularly attractive for growth because it’s close to Interstate 26, he said.

The roadway will also be near the new Lowcountry Rapid Transit bus route that will extend from Dorchester County into downtown Charleston and is expected to spur mixed-use developments along its path.


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