Struggling with the challenges of change


Les and Joan Tweed, long-time leaders of the Ballentine Civic Association, help guide the pace of development in the unincorporated area on the northeast corner of Lake Murray. Tim Dominick tdominick@thestate.com

BY TIM FLACH
tflach@thestate.com

Joe Cantwell calls Ballentine paradise even though roads increasingly are congested with newcomers drawn by the area’s resort lifestyle.

“It’s still a great place to live, still where I want to be, but it’s definitely more crowded,” said Cantwell, who has called the unincorporated community on the northeast corner of Lake Murray home for 32 years.

Ballentine, the self-proclaimed gateway to Lake Murray, is coping with growing pains and the threat of being swallowed partly by nearby Irmo.

Scattered enclaves on heavily forested land have given way to side-by-side neighborhoods as the population has more than doubled in 15 years. The homes have brought small stores and offices – and more cars to narrow roads. More cars than people, actually.

Still, the once-remote niche in northwest Richland County is becoming home to more people who share Cantwell’s sentiment that the 8-square-mile area offers the best of suburbia.

“It’s all worth it,” said Rob Strickland, who moved to the area three years ago.

In addition to lakeside living, major features attracting Strickland and others moving in are the area’s top-rated schools and its proximity to I-26 for work, shopping and recreation.

It’s home to 6,000 residents, compared to 2,800 in 2000, planners at the Central Midlands Council of Governments say. Another 1,000 newcomers are expected in the next five years, that analysis estimates.

And the area is expected to have 2,700 homes in five years compared to 2,300 today and 1,100 in 2000.

Dealing with a steady influx of homes and stores – mostly locally owned – is challenging for longtime residents.

“Roads are where you see the biggest change,” said Earl Long, who has lived in Ballentine since 1975. “If you think traffic is bad now, just wait.”

About 22,000 vehicles travel daily on Dutch Fork Road, Ballentine’s central thoroughfare, state transportation officials estimate. That’s an increase of 4,000 in the past decade, those counts say.

Strickland say there’s room for plenty more.

Others aren’t so sure.

Mixed success

With no town hall in charge, community leaders are trying to guide what comes. But there’s no guarantee their advice will be accepted.

Leaders of the Ballentine Civic Association work with local officials and builders in trying to shape the transition under way.

“We’ve been able to make sure if something comes in, it’s an appropriate fit,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, a Republican who lives in the area named for his family.

There have been successes:

▪ State officials denied tax credits last year for a plan for 112 apartments for low-income seniors and tenants amid complaints the projects proposed were out of character for the area and too far from public transportation.

▪ Richland County backed off plans last year for a lakeside recreation facility on Bonuck Road after complaints the surrounding neighborhood would be disrupted by traffic, vandalism, noise and litter.

▪ More activities have been added and facilities improved at Ballentine Park in the past few years.

But the association’s one-time goal of keeping the area largely pastoral is fading.

“The concept of semi-rural living is going away,” said longtime association leader Les Tweed, who settled there 20 years ago. Now, “we’re trying to keep the essence of quaint Southern living.”

But former association leader Tom Callan is disturbed by landscape disappearing as new roofs rise. “Trees are continually being knocked down to build,” he said.

The changes come after Ballentine residents passed on a chance to have greater influence on new development.

Residents rejected the idea of creating a municipality – promoted as the way to largely control what comes – for a 2008 referendum. Many were worried about higher taxes.

Some are interested in trying again to incorporate. But efforts to revive the idea have fizzled.

Long doesn’t regret opposing the plan even though he is dissatisfied with county oversight of local growth.

“They’re too generous with developers,” he said. “There’s not much control at all.”

Irmo’s inroads

Ballentine has no official borders even though it has its own ZIP code – of 29002 – as well as a park, elementary school, library and post office bearing its name.

The area generally is considered bounded by I-26 on the north, Lake Murray on the south, the Lowman Home, a Lutheran retirement community, on the west and S.C. 6 on the east.

Those traditional borders are being nibbled at by neighboring Irmo.

The town has annexed small pieces of Ballentine during the past decade, taking in new subdivisions after focusing first on retail sites.

Irmo isn’t interested in taking in large swaths of Ballentine, but it will continue to add portions selectively, Mayor Hardy King said.

Most sites targeted are undeveloped tracts on Irmo’s north and west edges. And some builders prefer working with Irmo’s guidelines rather than the county’s, King said.

Other requests come from landowners who feel town officials are more sympathetic, he said.

But some Ballentine residents complain that Irmo officials ignore concerns that more homes and stores threaten to overwhelm the area.

“Growth can be a cancer,” said real estate broker John Mitchell, who is unhappy that a neighborhood of 240 homes will rise a few blocks from his home.

Cope, not oppose

Tweed and wife Joan keep a “welcome to the lake” banner in the front yard of their home on a lake cove opposite a new apartment complex.

The couple looks at the influx as a challenge to manage, not prevent. They hope simply to try to lessen the impact of having more homes, saying an effort to wall off Ballentine is impractical.

One result of that approach sits across the cove from their home.

Talks with developers led to a four-story apartment complex instead of a pair of 14-story towers initially proposed.

The welcome mat is out for projects that seem appropriate, the couple said.

“We know that living here is as good as it gets,” Les Tweed said. “More people are discovering that. We just don’t want things to get out of control.”

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