Woodlands Nature Reserve suspends operations, in limbo

Woodlands Nature Reserve, a 6,000-acre piece of land tucked away off Ashley River Road in Dorchester County, suspended all operations after county officials denied event permits last month for a concert Slightly Stoopid and the August 27 Resonance Festival scheduled for September 15-17. . The fate of a Dirty Heads concert scheduled for October 1 has yet to be determined.

“We don’t know where we are,” said Vince Iwinski, the site’s head of music and events. “No concerns were ever brought to our attention, so the permit denial came as a surprise as there had been no phone calls from anyone in Dorchester County indicating there had been concerns.”

Zoning issues raised

The county cited the August concert and the September festival in its denial because it said these activities were “not considered incidental and subordinate to the primary permitted use of the property as required by the Dorchester County Zoning and Land Development section 10.2.3. Standards,” according to the records.

Since 2019, Woodlands has hosted five larger-scale events along with other smaller community and arts events, Iwinski said. He expressed uncertainty as to why zoning issues were raised.

“The commercial license enables arts, recreation and entertainment,” he said. “Hence our uncertainty as to why the county is denying the permits when we are operating under the business license.”

Dorchester County did not respond to the city ​​paper‘s several requests for zoning information or feedback on what was going on with the venue permit.

Woodlands owner Holland Duell, who lives on the property, said he believes Woodlands activities fall under ecotourism and social cultural events, which are permitted uses under historic overlay district ordinances. ‘Ashley River governing property. Although ecotourism is a secondary land use, he said.

“Sustainable forestry and wildlife habitat has been the dominant land use for decades in the Woodlands Nature Preserve,” Duell said. city ​​paper. “In 2019, we started to open the reserve to the public through ecotourism, social and cultural events. We hope to collaborate with the government so that we can provide nature-based experiences for [the] public rather than remaining strictly logging.

Traffic problems

The reserve held an unauthorized Rainbow Kitten Surprise concert on July 1 which, according to Dorchester County records, was “unprecedented in scale” and “caused serious safety and traffic issues”, making the traffic on Highway 61 caused by event attendees another concern aside from the frequency of events. .

The event promoters did not apply for permits for the July 1 event, Iwinski said, but he and his team were unaware of this and were not contacted about the incident. offense.

Dorchester County Councilor Jay Byars of Summerville said city ​​paper he received several email complaints about traffic in the area after the July event and heard that residents were complaining to the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.

Byars said he felt Woodlands operated primarily as a reserve with occasional small-scale events.

“There are some things that need to be worked out…because this place is not allowing 5,000 people to come there without major planning…and based on what [Dorchester County] the staff give me [as] feedback, this did not happen. … This zoning is not [meant] for an event venue.

The intention is not to try to shut Woodlands down completely, Byars said, but to find a solution for everyone.

How Woodlands Works

The Woodlands Nature Reserve operates as a nature destination offering levels of camping, kayaking, biking and hiking all year round. Woodlands is currently not open for these activities while it navigates licensing issues.

“Until this all started to unfold, we were open every weekend and people were coming here to camp,” Iwinski said.

Special events support the Woodland ecotourism operation, he said. Woodlands has hosted a campsite-based Charleston Bluegrass Festival with around 3,000 attendees per year since 2019, and a smaller-scale bluegrass festival held in 2017 and 2018 before the property fully launched its event schedule.

“I believe this event speaks to the kind of symbiotic relationship between immersing yourself in a natural setting and seeing music outdoors,” he said.

Woodlands is working with Dorchester County by partnering with Keep Dorchester County Beautiful to provide recycling and trash can service and engaging county police to direct traffic on and off the property, Iwinski said. He regularly partners with area businesses such as Charleston Kayaking, On Purpose Adventures, Eco Tours, Sea Island Adventures, and Middleton Place Equestrian Center, among others.

“I believe we are the only entity in the county that operates in the area of ​​ecotourism,” Iwinski said.

Good neighborhood tips

Andrew Girone, an accountant in Summerville, has resided in the Middleton Oaks Road neighborhood across from the Woodlands property for 23 years and has spent a lot of time biking and hiking its trails.

Girone said it looks like every event he’s attended since 2018 is staged a little differently when it comes to parking and stage locations, so there’s flexibility when it comes to solving the issue of traffic on Highway 61.

“Some events haven’t been a problem and some have been,” he said, “so I think there are logistical solutions.” He suggested more pre-show staff and signs to direct traffic, multiple entrances to the property and limiting one-day events as solutions.

“I think it’s a matter of finding common ground between residents, Dorchester County and the Woodlands,” he said. “[Woodlands] is a unique amenity for our neighborhood and county and likely a boon to sales tax revenue,” he said.

rebuild the woods

Prior to shutting down operations, Woodlands was developing land with an entrance one mile north of its main entrance which is two miles off Highway 61 with two large parking lots and space for a stage called North Lake Venue, a said Iwinski.

“There’s an abundance of space that fits into our forestry program for the public to enjoy the land, with ample parking,” Duell said.

North Lake Venue and its parking lot are considerably further into the property than the front acreage primarily used for previous events, he said. The designated route to unload cars from the highway will be eight times longer than the current route that spins cars to the parking lot. The space needed to be completed in time to host the Resonance Festival and Dirty Heads.

“[Dorchester County] denied the [Resonance Festival] permits without fully digesting the operating procedures presented to them by the proponents as part of the permitting process,” Iwinski said.

“I’d like to get the conversations back,” he said, “and see if we can be an asset…and make Dorchester County proud.”

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