Sept. 29--FLORENCE, S.C. -- The landscape of the David H. McLeod Boulevard corridor continues its transformation as the former Pepsi bottling plant was cleared for a new retail development that has also shifted the landscape for runners and walkers on a nearby trail system.
Site work on the 18-acre Florence Crossings retail development has some members of the community cross since construction work has cut off part of the beginning part of the Rail Trail -- though it technically isn't part of the trail -- and subsequently preventing pedestrian traffic through the worksite, near the McLeod Boulevard overpass on a route that linked the popular Rail Trail with a continuing trail along Woody Jones Boulevard.
Beka Horton saw the changes for the first time Thursday since work began weeks ago.
"I haven't been out here since they cleared all these trees, and it looks likes totally different," Horton said. "I knew they were renovating this building, but I didn't know they were going to take all the trees out. You used to be able to go through here and across to Lowe's and around to connect over that way."
The area Horton is referring to is under the McLeod Boulevard bridge that crews fenced off since they're currently clearing the land. Construction activities are still underway, but some fencing has been removed to allow access to other areas.
Florence County Planning Director Jay Graham said all parties involved in the development are working to keep the space interconnected for pedestrians and bikers. Graham said the work is permitted for and is being handled correctly, but said the disruption is being done out of public safety concerns.
"So when they started to develop the land, for safety, they had to block the trail to keep people from walking into construction equipment, trees, holes and stuff like that, so they cut the trail off," he said.
Graham said the site is not in the city, and that particular Rail Trail connection was not something the city planned.
"The official city trail happened to be easement that ran along the backside of the Pepsi plant," Graham said. "Over the years people, on their own, forged the path straight ahead instead of the official trail; over time that became the official unofficial trail."
Another trail, McLeod Crossings, runs adjacent to the former gravel track bed that connected the popular Rail Trail to the overpass and crews are even allowing that trail's exit/entry point (a gravel slope with wooden stairs) to remain, even though its 20 feet onto private property.
Vannoy Construction superintendent George Carter said the property owners, S.F. Florence, are working to keep the trails connected despite property lines and their own obligations by keeping the access point and creating a level, asphalt paved path from the overpass running parallel to McLeod Boulevard to and around the property on Woody Jones.
"The reason we cleared it is because there's a big retention basin going over there," Carter said. "There will be a big concrete wall, so when you have rainwater runoff, it accumulates in these basins and perks into the creek so it doesn't flow in too hard."
Crews expect to finish clearing trees and overgrown brush and sodding the McLeod Boulevard embankment in enough time to open the path to Woody Jones Boulevard by Oct. 6.
The issue has brought up the role developers can play in keeping the trail system growing, an amenity that Florentines and transplants are increasingly demanding, but that have been slow to grow.
Realtor Ken Jackson recently said that such amenities are at the top of the list for relocation business.
"That's what people want. They want green space and ask about trails, biking and hiking," Jackson said. "They want restaurants to go out to and they want good schools for their kids. Florence has a lot of beauty you wouldn't know about if you just rode through here."
In order to facilitate trail interconnectivity, Graham along with his city planner Phillip Lookadoo, are working informally to address issues like these to keep trail growth moving forward.
"Currently this is a passive endeavor and what I mean by that is we have collaborated with city with their trails program and loosely identified connectivity possibilities from I-20 and I-95, out to Freedom Florence Park and out to FMU," Graham said. "But that's long range, like 20 years long range, but as a planner that's what we start looking at and by me working with Phillip, we loosely connect the dots. This is a good example as corporate citizens come in and develop, we're looking and talking with developers to work with us to develop trails across developments."
Currently, the Florence Crossings development will feature Academy Sports + Outdoors as its anchor store and Cheddar's Casual Cafe in an outparcel lot. The development will also feature a 9,200 square-foot retail space attached to Academy Sports, two additional outparcels for shops and another area for a restaurant.
Construction of the development is expected to finish in early 2014.