Water and Wetlands

Cooks Crossroads

At a historic intersection near the town of Summerville, Dorchester County officials abandoned their own unique plans for the ecologically sensitive area to greenlight a gas station next to the Ashley River floodplain. We are fighting on behalf of the Dorchester Trust Foundation to protect the area’s special rural character and uphold Dorchester County’s Comprehensive Plan. (Photo by Cori McIntyre.)
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Cooks Crossroads, at the corner of state highways 165 and 61, falls within District 5 of the Ashley River Historic District Overlay Zone adopted by the Dorchester County Council. District 5 is designated a Conservation Zoning District, which imposes specific requirements and limitations on development located within its boundaries. 

In 2019, Dorchester County Council adopted additional specialized design guidelines for development at Cooks Crossroads in recognition of the importance of the Ashley River and to further its goals of developing it as a “gateway” to the Historic District. Initially, gasoline stations and quick stop or convenience stores were specifically excluded as permissible or conditional uses within District 5. 

However, a company called Parker’s Kitchen demonstrated interest in purchasing property at Cooks Crossroads and developing it as a gas station and convenience store. Then on September 7, 2021, Dorchester County Council voted at third reading to approve an amendment to its zoning regulation to permit gas stations, quick stop or convenience stores as a “conditional use” solely in the Conservation Zoning District where Cooks Crossroads is located. 

Cooks Crossroads sits at the intersection of Bacon's Bridge (SC 165) and Ashley River Road (SC 61). Photo by Cori McIntyre.

Why We’re Fighting: 

The zoning amendment approved by Dorchester County Council is inconsistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan, the Zoning District’s own goals, and the design guidelines specifically developed and adopted for Cooks Crossing. 

The Dorchester Trust Foundation, which owns a large parcel within Cooks Crossroads that consists of Rosebrock Park, opposed the amendment at several County Council meetings. Reflecting the significance of the Ashley River and the Historic District, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources also submitted a letter to County Council opposing the amendment because of the significant impact a gasoline station would have on the Ashley River and its floodplain and the County’s own plan to develop this “gateway” to the unique historic and cultural character of the resources of the Ashley River Corridor. 

On behalf of the Dorchester Trust Foundation, we filed a lawsuit on November 5, 2021 against the County and County Council to challenge the adopted ordinance and obtain a court order declaring the ordinance unlawful and null and void. Additionally, we are seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against the County from implementing the amended ordinance. 

What’s the Problem? 

The environmental risks of siting a gasoline station in an area adjacent to the floodplain of the Ashley River are clear. Spills of hazardous materials such as fuel, oil, and other vehicle related fluids at a location adjacent to the Ashley River increases the potential for water quality degradation and contamination and negative impacts to fish and wildlife resources. 

The Ashley River, already designated impaired by regulators, requires additional protection, not additional risk of degradation. Because of its proximity to the river, the type of development permitted and the management of stormwater runoff is a matter of highest importance. 

Dorchester Trust Foundation chairman, George McDaniel, asked, “After only two years, why is the County Council changing its guidelines to allow a gas station at that location when three are already located about a mile away on Dorchester Road with a vacant corner available for another? Why assume the risks from flooding, litter, and pollution of the scenic Ashley River, which both the county and town are now investing in? A gas station/convenience store at that location is not a good example of wise business development, which we stand in favor of. “

Sharon Richardson, treasurer of the Foundation, is similarly concerned with water quality and health and safety concerns and invites collaboration with the County. 

“It has always been our intention as landlord to the County’s first public park to be working toward mutual goals. As a passive park, our floodplain forests play a critical role in flood storage capacity as Dorchester County experiences more flash flooding from rain bomb events,” said Richardson. 

Ashley River

Comprehensive Planning at a Crossroads 

On a broader level, local governments across South Carolina are required by state law to prepare and adopt Comprehensive Plans to serve as recommendations for development and a guide for adopting regulations to implement the goals and recommendations within the county boundaries. 

Despite the tremendous effort and expense involved in preparing Comprehensive Plans every decade, Dorchester County Council is not alone in frequently disregarding these recommendations amid development pressure, deriding comprehensive plans as non-binding and without any legal force. Around the state, municipal governments lately have ignored the voice of environmental advocates and citizen groups that seek the implementation of their county’s Comprehensive Plan recommendations. 

What’s more, a state law passed in 2020 requires a Resiliency element as part of any Comprehensive Plan in order to drive policies that protect people and structures from increasingly frequent and intense storm events and a changing climate. Dorchester County must be held accountable for its actions, so other governments do not disregard their own development recommendations. 

What are Solutions? 

Aside from winning the lawsuit, in 2018, the Dorchester County, Dorchester Trust Foundation, South Carolina National Heritage Corridor and its consultant team Urban Design Associates released a 90-page design plan to honor this remarkable yet fragile area. 

A copy of the plan, Standing at the Crossroads — Designing a gateway for the future, can be downloaded below in the "Additional Resources" section.

"Standing at the Crossroads — Designing a gateway for the future"

The plan states:

“Cooks Crossroads will be a place with charm and character — walkable, and oriented towards people walking and biking, rather than cars driving. People will come to Cooks Crossroads because it will be a pleasant, unique place, not just for the uses located within (shopping, dining, etc.). This is a rare opportunity to be distinctive in an area that has not to-date produced distinctive development or reflected the Lowcountry heritage. Cooks Crossroad will capitalize on the scenic river, the parks, and the scenic highway to create a special place.” 

Further background: Standing at the Crossroads by George W. McDaniel for The Southern Edge Magazine, Winter 2018

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