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Lexington mayor discusses 93-acre Smallwood Cove on Lake Murray, to include hotels, houses, retail and condos in a gated community

By Melissa Sprouse Browne – The Lake Murray Association held its quarterly meeting, Tuesday, at the Pilgrim Lutheran Church on North Lake Drive with Steve MacDougall, Mayor of the Town of Lexington. He was there to discuss the proposed mixed-use development called Smallwood Cove. It’s in the works for a high traffic area, on North Lake Drive at Lake Murray.

The meeting drew a large crowd, with a combination of Association members and the general public filling up the fellowship hall to capacity with standing room only.

The recently announced Smallwood Cove development would encompass seven individual tracts of land across 93 acres, situated between Lake Murray and North Lake Drive. All of the tracts are intended to be annexed into the Town of Lexington. As outlined in the Smallwood Cove Development Guideline prepared by Kimley Horn and Associates, the usage breakdown will be:

  • Multi-family/Townhomes: 940 units
  • Single Family Homes: 160 units
  • Hotel: 290 rooms
  • Conference Center: 50,000 square feet
  • Retail/Office: 40,000 square feet
  • Restaurant: 10,000 square feet

MacDougall touted the Town’s vision plan developed in 2012, saying it was put together with the input of over 400 people over the course of three years. It is reviewed and updated annually. A primary goal is for the Town of Lexington to have an iconic presence on the lake.

The project has been in discussion for 10 years. MacDougall said he and the property owner met regularly over that period and finally decided to develop the tract. “It started as a conversation about the town buying the property,” Macdougall said. “I told him the Town couldn’t afford it, so we had to get creative. Finally, he said ‘you’ve got me convinced, I really want to do it.’” MacDougall commented that the final outcome will be bigger and better than they ever dreamed, creating generational wealth for the landowner and his family for decades.

The seven tracts of land are now owned by corporate entities, including Smallwood Cove, LLC; Kendrick Cove, LLC; Kendrick Cove II, LLC and Edisto Cove, LLC; all showing the same registered agent of Silas Calhoun McMeekin, Jr.

MacDougall said the development will provide more local conference center space.

The Columbia Convention Center is expected to expand. It was constructed with a pad out front so it could grow in size once the funds are available. “They’ll get the larger conventions. The smaller conferences won’t have anywhere to go,” MacDougall said. “Our town hall room holds 350 people packed and it’s completely booked two years out. Give us five acres in this development and we’ll build the conference center, along with the roads to it and put water and sewer on the property. You develop the rest of it.”

Macdougall stressed the Town will not be in the conference center business. One of the hotels will be asked to manage and lease it from the Town of Lexington.

Two different developers from Florida are under consideration. The landowner obtained a marina permit for the property at the time of original purchase, so he wants to now create the marina along with two hotels, single family homes, retail and condos in a gated community. There are also talks of a wedding venue with sunset views across the big water.

The potential value that will be added to the Smallwood Cove property is upwards of $800 million, meaning $80 million to the town in taxes and $2 million in hospitality taxes.

Macdougall said that hospitality taxes are being used to improve the roads within the town. Speaking more on the traffic issue, he disclosed the adapted signalization system is live, improving traffic through the system. “We have bluetooth on the mast arms, so it will pick up your cell number and watch you as you go through town. We want to make sure you get through town in the amount of time we think it should take. If it’s taking longer, the system will open up green lights to make the trek faster.”

The mayor promised to have listening sessions for public input as the project progresses. “When we annex it, we may delay second reading as we want people to get informed. This will be the largest economic boom that has come to Lexington in forever and will be good for Irmo, Lexington, Batesburg-Leesville, with people coming from all over the state to use it,” he continued.

“The agreement I made with the landowner was that I wouldn’t talk about it until it was done,” Macdougall said. “You can’t say anything about it until you annex the property. This was a gentleman’s agreement and I stuck by it.”

The audience reaction to this revelation was swift. Sarah Grace Allen, digital creator and part of the family that owns Lexington restaurant Momma Rabbit’s Nibbles and Sips, spoke out as the first of many to question the mayor. “Are we already doing this? We have agreed to move forward and these meetings are now to just convince us? You’ve already had the first reading, so what’s left that we can do?”

Several others in the audience spoke, asking questions of the mayor about the town’s infrastructure and what will be done to handle the huge increase in population and visitors the Smallwood Cove development will bring.

With 940 multi-family units on the shores of Lake Murray, a lake area resident asked where will you put all the schools you’ll need for all these new kids? Macdougall said the conversation will include the school board and everyone is engaged. “This development will raise $40 million for the school district. They understand what we’re doing. We opened one of the largest high schools in the state and the plan is for schools in the area to continue to grow. Every school was built with a pad so that we can add onto it. We can’t add more schools in our immediate area, so the idea is to expand what the current schools can handle.”

Resident Donna Shealy asked if any property owners between the Town of Lexington and this project will be annexed. The mayor simply said no.

Traffic was mentioned by several speakers, with the common theme of how challenging it already is in the area and what it will be in the future after this development arrives.
Macdougall mentioned serving on the Council of Governments. “On that stretch of Highway 6, there are 20,000 cars per day now. The traffic study said it would add 1100 cars per day. Most of the people that buy this property will be retirees,” he said.

A resident who currently lives on Midway Road said he sometimes waits twenty minutes or more to get out of his driveway on any given day. The multi-family component of Smallwood Cove is likely to be used by a range of ages, not typically retirees and the overall development is not advertised as an active adult or over 55 senior community.

John Allen, also part of the Momma Rabbit’s ownership, said he thought their was a lack of transparency associated with the project. “Do you think it was appropriate that this project was withheld from the people for so long? Do you believe that the town council withheld the information from everyone until it was signed off on and now it’s going on?”

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