Public, council members question impact of proposed Lake Murray resort, how it came about

Posted 6/1/23

How Lexington came to be involved in a project to bring a nearly 94 acre mixed-use development and resort to the shores of Lake Murray is among the mounting concerns surrounding the effort.

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Public, council members question impact of proposed Lake Murray resort, how it came about


How Lexington came to be involved in a project to bring a nearly 94 acre mixed-use development and resort to the shores of Lake Murray is among the mounting concerns surrounding the effort.

At a special called meeting held May 30, Lexington Town Council met to discuss the Smallwood Cove development, which was announced at a council meeting at the beginning of the month. Issues raised about the project included traffic and population density, along with confusion about how the project came to be.

The $733 million development is planned to bring a marina, rental spaces, hotels, restaurants, and living spaces ranging from single-family homes to condos along with a Regional Conference Center.

Approvals for Smallwood Cove remain in process, with the town Planning Commission voting to move items relating to the development to a later date that has yet to be specified at its May 17 meeting.

Among the sticking points for those who made themselves heard during the public comment was the agreement on the part of Mayor Steve MacDougall that got the ball rolling for Smallwood Cove. 

During the meeting, the accord was termed a “gentleman’s agreement” by both the mayor and public commenter John Allen, who questioned why the mayor would seek out the property owner to push for the project. Allen said the mayor had shared that he had instigated the project in this way and that he saw the project as his legacy.

Such questions have already been in the air. A petition circulated by the group Develop Lexington County Responsibly, which it says has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures, is pushing the town for transparency on how the project came about and how it will impact the community.

While the mayor didn’t respond to the notion of Smallwood Cove being his legacy, he did touch on how the agreement came to pass and why it wasn’t immediately brought to the public’s attention.

“We were talking about it outside of our meetings until it was official, until we had an agreement,” Mayor Steve MacDougall said of his discussions with the property owner. “When you start talking about land projects, there's a lot of people that get involved with calling him and asking him questions about his property, and he didn't want to deal with that.

“So yes, it was a gentleman's agreement that we had, that we would not discuss the project until we had the agreement in place.”

According to a town official who requested to remain anonymous, Lexington is approached by developers frequently about projects, stating that it is not unusual for discussions to be held about such possibilities among staff and council before an official proposal is brought forth.

The official said the mayor was working as a representative on the town’s behalf.

Asked by a commenter if anyone on council knew of this gentleman’s agreement, there was a noticeable silence before Mayor Pro-Tem Hazel Livingston said she knew of a project but didn't know how big it was.

Gavin Smith, who was elected to council the day after Smallwood Cove was announced, said that he had heard rumblings in the community, but he didn’t know about the project until it was announced.

“I think none of us are saying this is a done deal, none of us are saying this is even an approved deal. We're on the five yard line,” Smith said. “You're part of the process. Everyone is part of the process. So I appreciate you being here sharing your concerns about it.”

Smith reached out to the Chronicle after the meeting and reiterated that the most important part for him was the amount of people who showed up to express their thoughts and concerns on the project, saying that’s an important part of the process.

Among the concerns brought forth by the public is how the development will impact traffic, which is already an ongoing issue in Lexington. These concerns zeroed in on the traffic study that was completed in October and whether it is sufficient to understand Smallwood Cove’s potential impact.

Randy Edwards, director of transportation for the town, said he reviewed a traffic study commissioned by the property owner that included Andrew Corley Road., which sits past Beekeeper Court., and Pilgrim Church Road, which sits past Andrew Corley Road and turns into Old Cherokee Road. Smallwood Cove is set to be located off Beekeeper Court and North Lake Drive.

Laurin Barnes, the town’s communications manager, said the state Department of Transporation also reviewed the study.

Edwards shared that the study looked very similar to any other residential commercial development. The potential project currently has two access points, one at Corley Mill Road,  near the Dominion Energy beach access point, and one at Beekeeper Court.

The director shared that Beekeeper Court would turn into a signalized intersection with multiple lanes and Andrew Corley Road would have an additional right turn lane added as mitigation. The study concluded that Pilgrim Church would not need mitigations.

Many residents expressed concern as to why Corley Mill, which connects North Lake Drive to Sunset Boulevard, and the intersection between North Lake Drive and Sunset Boulevard coming into the heart of Lexington weren’t included in the study.

“This traffic study is not accurate because you don't even know what's going to be there,” Mayor Pro-tem Hazel Livingston said. “Really, it should have waited until we knew what the plan was to do a traffic study.”

Smith also echoed this concern.

Edwards said completing the study in October was a very normal time to deal with traffic due to school being in session.

The mayor said the town will look at doing an additional study after they receive the site plan, which will give the town a better idea as to where and what will be in the development, and compare the results to the current study.

Residents brought up the influx of traffic that would come from the new conference center when events are held, speculating that thousands of cars could be added to the roads.

The center, the road to it, and water and sewage would be the only portion of the development that the town would be responsible for funding and building. The center and road would cost roughly $30 million and the sewage and water would be $2 million, coming from the town’s enterprise fund.

Barnes told the Chronicle that the town has already received $6 million from the state and is hoping to receive another $10 million.

According to Town Administrator Britt Poole, the exact size of the center is as of yet unclear, and will depend on the funding the town receives. The center will be at least 25,000 square feet and could expand up to 50,000 square feet if Lexington receives the full funding it is requesting. If they don’t get the full funding right away, it will be possible to expand the center later on.

Livingston questioned whether a Lexington conference center is necessary, asking if there is demand for another space in addition to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, located about 15 miles away in downtown Columbia.

Poole said there is a large demand for more meeting spaces within the town.

While the town will be responsible for building the center, the town administrator explained that it would most likely lease the facility to the main hotel on the property, which would handle day-to-day operations. He added that the hotel and the town would form an agreement of some sort on handling maintenance.

While the center could bring a regular influx of people to Lexington, the property will also house single-family homes and townhomes. Council member Todd Carnes questioned if there has been any discussion on the number of families and students that this development would house. 

Poole shared that those numbers are not available, but the town has coordinated with Lexington County School District 1 Superintendent Gerritta Postlewait and Matt Warren, the district’s director of operations regarding new students.

How the development will impact the lake was also among concerns mentioned, with Livingston asking if any environmental studies or surveys have been conducted regarding runoff, trash or just the general effect on the lake.

Poole said no studies have been conducted yet, mentioning that they need to be done as part of the stormwater package, which he said is normal with a prospective development.

Livingston also asked about the amount of green space that would be required, Poole shared that it will be 17.5% green space, roughly 16.36 acres.

Smith and Livingston asked why the development is being allowed to eschew the town’s normal standards, which call for 25% green space, and how it compares to what other developments have been allowed to do.

lake murray resort, lexington development, smallwood cove, mayor steve macdougall, develop lexington county responsibly


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