Originally created 05/27/05

$1 billion in homes planned



GRANITEVILLE - Developers announced plans Thursday to build two massive communities on either side of Graniteville that would dramatically alter Aiken County's landscape during the next 10 years.

The FineDeering Development Group said it wants to build almost 5,000 homes, retail centers and recreation space on 2,435 acres.

The proposed communities back up to each other but are separated by a half-mile buffer that is occupied by railroad tracks, power lines and Old Graniteville Highway.

The land is zoned for residential and commercial use, but specific parts of the plan still need the approval of local government planners.

The smaller site, to be called Sage Creek, would be built on 635 acres along Bettis Academy Road, off Interstate 20 near Graniteville. It would include a mix of 1,400 houses and town homes, walking trails and parks, and 16 acres of commercial space.

The developers, Richard Fine and Robert Deering, of Houston, donated 84 acres near the proposed subdivision to the Aiken County school system. Superintendent Linda Eldridge announced that Byrd Elementary School in Graniteville would eventually be moved to the site.

The second community, to be called Trolley Run Station, would be built on 1,800 acres bordered by Trolley Line Road, Vaucluse Road and Robert Bell Parkway.

The proposed development is contiguous with the city of Aiken, near the University of South Carolina Aiken and Aiken Regional Medical Centers, and developers said they might annex into the city to get water and sewer service.

The larger community would include 169 acres for commercial use, hiking trails and parks similar to those at Sage Creek and a mix of almost 3,600 homes, including a retirement community and multifamily housing.

When completed, the communities and infrastructure that supports them will be worth close to $1 billion, the developers estimated.

"We think Aiken has a unique charm," Mr. Deering said at a news conference near the Sage Creek site. "It has the warmth of a small town. It (also) has the sophistication of a much more metropolitan city."

The developers said they discovered the area through Aiken-based developer Weldon Wyatt, a longtime business associate of Mr. Fine who is selling the land being developed.

The developers have purchased 650 acres from Mr. Wyatt, 250 along Bettis Academy Road and the remainder near Trolley Line Road, Mr. Fine said.

Land at both locations will be cleared for streets in coming months, and construction is expected to start in early 2006. Homes will go on the market later next year, most likely summer. Both neighborhoods will provide affordable housing, developers said.

Sage Creek was described as a "starter market" for new home buyers, with prices starting at $125,000. Homes in the Trolley Run neighborhood would start at about $150,000 and climb as high as $500,000.

The Trolley Line subdivision alone would dwarf Aiken's next biggest neighborhood, Woodside Plantation, which has fewer than 1,500 homes.

Both proposed communities would provide a jolt of new money to government tax bases and supply much-needed housing - Sage Creek to people wanting to live near Graniteville, and Trolley Run for those on Aiken's underdeveloped north side.

Community leaders who attended the news conference said they welcomed the development.

"I think it's a great thing for both places," said Aiken County Councilman Charles Barton, who represents the area. "It's some growth that we've badly needed."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

5,000 houses in the works

- Construction on homes at the proposed Sage Creek and Trolley Run Station communities is scheduled to start in early 2006. Homes are expected to hit the market by that summer.

- The first phase of building at Sage Creek will include 250 houses. At Trolley Run, the initial phase will include 315 houses, including 165 within a retirement community.

- Developers say it will take 10 to 12 years to build the 5,000 homes that are planned at both sites.

- More than 180 acres has been set aside for commercial purposes between both sites.

- Developers say they will stress an "in-the-country" feel in both communities and will have 175 acres of protected wetlands.