Water and Wetlands

Ten Mile Community

The Ten Mile community, a historic African American settlement community, is located in Charleston County. We are working with the Ten Mile Neighborhood Association to fight over-development that threatens environmental and cultural resources.
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The Issue

The Ten Mile community, a historic African American settlement community founded nearly two centuries ago, is located in Charleston County between Highway 17 and Copahee Sound, with highly unusual Seafood Road running along the saltmarsh with a stunning wide-open view. The Ten Mile community’s historic value cannot be overstated, and its cultural significance led to its designation as a Historic District in 2022.

Inside the boundaries of the Ten Mile Community Historic District, a developer is planning 3 subdivisions for a total of 42 houses, including 21 elevated homes on less than 6 acres of “high-ground” (raised with fill dirt by several feet compared to the surrounding parcels), on a cul-de-sac, one-street subdivision with vehicular access from Seafood Road, which reliably floods at high tide. If built as planned, the subdivisions would cause irreparable damage to the integrity of the Historic District and change Ten Mile forever.

The vast marsh of Copahee Sound viewed from the Ten Mile Center

In 2018, Charleston County adopted a Historic Preservation Ordinance specifically designed to protect historic African-American settlement communities like Ten Mile by ensuring that future developments are compatible with the unique historic and cultural resources of the specific district. The ordinance requires that new subdivisions, among others, must be as certified as historically appropriate if proposed within a Historic District.

Learn more about the Historic Preservation Ordinance and SCELP's work to uphold and improve it here.

Yet, final plats of all 3 projects were approved while the applications for the certificates were still pending before the Historic Preservation Commission, which ultimately denied them unanimously on July 19, 2023.

Why It Matters

The community’s roots in resilience are most visible in its settlement pattern, which showcases houses with large lots that leave plenty of room for growing food. The minimal lot coverage throughout the community also made way for an abundance of greenery and private open space with very few impervious surfaces.

Like other settlement communities in the area, the Ten Mile community was settled after the Civil War by formerly enslaved African-Americans and was a self-sufficient community made possible by the skills of its residents who were hunters, farmers, carpenters, seamstresses, cooks, midwives and entrepreneurs. African-American Homeownership is a cornerstone and a point of pride for the Ten Mile Community:

“Many of the former (and current) residents of the Ten Mile Community also served in the United States Military. Ten Mile residents defended the U.S. in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. Ironically, even though many veterans experienced discrimination in the military and in the United States, they returned to the Ten Mile Community to experience many aspects of the “American Dream,” specifically the goal of home ownership. Both historically and today, many of the African Americans in the Ten Mile Community are homeowners. This is significant when only 40.6% of African Americans own their home in the United States, while greater than 66% of the African Americans in the Ten Mile Community are homeowners. A significant percentage of the property in the Ten Mile Community is Heirs Property.”

- from Ten Mile's Area Character Appraisal

The subdivisions, in particular the one on Seafood Road, do not add anything to the Ten Mile community’s historic and cultural value, they would detract from the community’s quality of life and sense of pride in its past and future. Development of the affected parcels would also continue the well-established gentrification trend East of the Cooper.

Additional Threats/Environmental Protection

Seafood Road flooded at high tide

In addition to the destruction of the integrity of the historical district, the proposed subdivisions could create serious environmental impacts, worsening flooding and stormwater runoff into the Sound. Seafood Road, the only access road for the largest of the proposed subdivisions, is already regularly inundated and unpassable at high tide and is in a particularly bad state of repair. In addition to the public safety and water quality issues stemming from such a development, the subdivision as proposed is not a reasonable attempt to cope with sea level rise and/or to promote the resilience of our coastal communities.

The Legal Action

After advocating for the denial of the certificates of historic appropriateness for all three projects since the Spring, we challenged the final plat approval for the Seafood Road subdivision in April on two grounds:

1. the preliminary plat was approved well over 2 years ago and had therefore lapsed, and;

2. the final plat approval was granted by the Director of Zoning and Planning despite the fact that no certificate of historic appropriateness had been previously issued.

Our appeal was heard in June by the Planning Commission which, we contend, proceeded to incorrectly rely on the Permit Extension Resolution (passed while our appeal was pending) to reject our appeal without also considering the historic appropriateness requirement.

On July 12, 2023, on behalf of the Ten Mile Neighborhood Association, we appealed the Charleston County Planning Commission’s decision that upheld the final plat approval for the proposed subdivision at the edge of Copahee Sound.

In July we also challenged the final plat approvals of the other two subdivisions as we contend that they too violate express provisions of the Zoning and Land Development Regulations and the Historic Preservation Ordinance, including the provision which requires obtaining a certificate of historic appropriateness prior to final plat approval.

“We are proud to stand with the Ten Mile Community to try to protect its historic character," said Ben Cunningham, Senior Managing Attorney, "We have and will continue to defend against the potential erosion of environmental and cultural protections for all historic communities in our area.”

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