May River High School is getting a new neighbor — hundreds of new neighbors, actually.
The Bluffton Town Council voted unanimously earlier this week approving a plan to build a new 365-home neighborhood on roughly 232 acres near the intersection of New Riverside and Old Palmetto Bluff roads.
The site of the development — which is planned to be a private gated community — sits squarely between the high school to the west and the headwaters of the May River to the east.
The neighborhood, located within the New Riverside planned development area, will be built in phases with construction expected to start later this year, town documents show. A specific builder for the homes has yet to be identified.
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Town leaders have recently expressed concerns about Bluffton’s rapid growth and its potential for negative impacts such as overcrowding, infrastructure strain and environmental degradation.
In February, Bluffton Town Council members delayed — but ultimately approved — a measure to grant preliminary approval to another project that would add as many as 300 new homes and a 50-acre retail area to a different New Riverside subdivision off S.C. 170.
However, there appeared to be a strong consensus among town leaders that the owners of the newly approved 365-home community have built sufficient safeguards into their plans to mitigate potential problems.
The property ownership group — Pritchard Farm, LLC — along with the project’s engineers and architects, “listened to us,” Bluffton mayor Lisa Sulka said at Tuesday’s council meeting, referring to previous requests from town leaders that developers include more parking and open space in their plans.
“It’s a very good plan,” she said.
I was impressed with the amount of open space.
Bluffton Town councilman Dan Wood
Town planning and development manager Kevin Icard said earlier this week that “significant trees will be saved” on the heavily wooded plot, and the property owner plans to greatly exceed the town’s minimum parking and open space requirements.
Pocket parks, gardens, wetlands and grassy squares totaling more than 100 acres are set to be spread throughout the development, which will be encircled by mulched walking trails, according to town documents.
“I was impressed with the amount of open space,” councilman Dan Wood said earlier this week. “It’s huge, and I think that’s a wonderful concept.”
Icard said the project also includes “a very large water quality pond” to help keep pollutants out of the May River.
The 33-acre pond separates the development from the environmentally sensitive May River headwaters.
The pond’s size “allows for a lot of time for settling (of pollutants) and a lot of time for sunlight to kill bacteria” before it has a chance to enter the waterway, Mike Hughes, with the project’s engineering firm Thomas & Hutton, told town leaders Tuesday.
Plans for the community call for a main entrance on New Riverside Road and a private connector road to the school facilities.
In a letter last month, Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeff Moss wrote that the district supports the proposed master plan for the new subdivision.
“Beaufort County School District values the partnership with all of our neighboring communities within the New Riverside (development),” the letter said.
The developer and the town of Bluffton have “worked with (the school district) to ensure (the district) will have the infrastructure required to meet the capacity needs for the rapidly growing student population of Beaufort County and the New Riverside community,” Moss wrote.
May River High School, which opened last year, has an enrollment of about 970 students, according to data from the S.C. Department of Education.
The current building has the capacity for 1,400 students, and future expansion of the school could increase that capacity by several hundred, school district documents show.