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Sept. 27, 2005 - Vince Graham and the I'On group decide against purchasing the Hassell Tract.

                                                Saturday, August 06, 2005 - Last Updated: 7:38 AM


I'On eyes Mt. Pleasant site

Developer has contract to buy 107-acre tract along Rifle Range Road


Of The Post and Courier Staff


The developer behind the critically acclaimed I'On neighborhood in Mount Pleasant is at it again.

The I'On Group wants to build a mix of homes and commercial space on land in East Cooper where another developer had proposed to build a shopping center, triggering a groundswell of opposition from area residents.


The company said Friday it has a contract to buy 107 acres along Rifle Range Road and nearby Hungryneck Boulevard from McAlister Development Co. The site includes the Hassell Tract, as well as additional acreage.


Led by Vince Graham, I'On made its mark in Mount Pleasant with its namesake development off Mathis Ferry Road, a so-called neo-traditional community patterned after downtown Charleston and other pedestrian-oriented cities. About 500 pricey and architecturally diverse homes have been built in the nationally recognized neighborhood since construction started eight years ago.


Terms of its latest land acquisition were not disclosed, but LeGrand Elebash, chief operations officer of I'On, said the property is widely viewed as one of the most significant "infill" development sites left in the heart of Mount Pleasant.


I'On officials met this week with representatives from some neighborhood groups in the area to discuss its plans, which for now are "strictly conceptual," he said. The company also has held talks with town planning officials, Elebash said.


"It's obviously a pivotal piece of land in the dead-center of Mount Pleasant. ... It's such a centralized and important location that it's got to be done right," he said.


The majority of the land is not within the town's limits, and I'On would want to have the entire site annexed, he said. At the same time, the company needs to negotiate a development agreement with the town that addresses Mount Pleasant's self-imposed limit on residential building permits. Without such an assurance, I'On would have trouble selling home sites.


"We'll have to have some kind of an agreement on building permits," Elebash said. "But the town knows that with a development agreement, they ultimately still exert a fair amount of control over what happens."


A rezoning request that would have allowed 500,000 square feet of retail space, roughly equivalent to the size of the Mount Pleasant Towne Centre, to be built on the property touched off a major land-use controversy this year. A swarm of nearby homeowners objected to the idea, saying it would add too much traffic on the primarily residential Rifle Range Road.


In June, town officials nixed a proposal that would have allowed McAlister Development to build its project on 80 acres.


Jim Poch of Mount Pleasant Citizens for Traditional Neighborhoods, which opposed McAlister's plan, was among the homeowners who met with I'On officials Thursday night. He said liked what he heard.


"We always want to see the details before we endorse something, but if I'On can deliver what its track record suggests, it's very possible the town ... will get 250 activists acting on behalf of a developer," Poch said.


Anthony McAlister, president of McAlister Development, declined to elaborate about the potential land sale Friday, citing confidentiality agreements he has signed. "But I know these guys will do a good job," he said of the I'On Group.


Graham and his company have recently been working on Morris Square, a residential and commercial project in downtown Charleston, and the redevelopment of the John C. Calhoun Homes neighborhood in North Charleston.


Elebash said the company wants this next proposed project "to be like I'On in terms of quality -- the quality of the public realm, the parks, the streets. But architecturally we may consider being more relaxed," he said.


Another difference is that the company will try to build considerably more commercial space than it did in I'On, Elebash said.


"The beauty of having more neighborhood commercial space ... is that you catch vehicle trips internally that otherwise would go to interior roads somewhere else," he said. "If you don't have enough of it, people have to get on the road to get what they need."


The company plans to put "a healthy dose" of space for businesses along Hungryneck Boulevard, Elebash said. "We're not interested in putting more commercial traffic on Rifle Range Road," he said.



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