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Construction Facts: Building on a Barrier Island

An Interview with Dan Battista
Senior Vice President, Lowe

About Lowe:

Lowe is a leading national real estate investment, development and management firm. Over the past 48 years, it has developed, acquired or managed more than $32 billion of real estate assets nationwide as it pursued its mission to build value in real estate by creating innovative, lasting environments and meaningful experiences that connect people and place. Lowe currently has more than $2 billion in commercial real estate projects in the pipeline or under development. In addition to its Los Angeles headquarters, Lowe maintains regional offices in Southern California, Northern California, Charleston, Denver, Seattle, and Washington, DC. For more information visit


Clearly one of the most interesting things about building on a barrier island is that your water table is not that far underground. So, you hit water anywhere between 2-4 ft. out here. Which is interesting because you really cannot go subterranean. Everything is built above ground, so you have limitations as to what you can do and then of course, it is sandy soil. So, for the proper footings and foundations, we have to drive piles. The interesting thing about the piles is they are very long. The piles can range from 75-90 feet. So, underneath the entire building there are piles driven. They are driven down into what is called the Cooper marl. That is really where you start getting to real stability with respect to foundation. It’s really something that we experience here in the Lowcountry more so than other areas in the country that we do development. For the Sweetgrass Inn, we drove approximately 800+ piles. 
Because of the particular flood zones, most of the new construction needs to be elevated. So, the first habitable floor that we can have out here is roughly at about 12 feet. So, clearly, we build on a podium which provides parking on the ground level and the habitable space at 12 feet and above.
One of the interesting things about building on a barrier island is that we do have to adhere to very stringent construction codes with respect to natural disasters. We have impact glass that is resistant to 35 miles per hour winds. We also, in certain instances and in certain areas that are below the floodplain, we provide flood panels. Our generator is elevated, so that it is out of harm’s way in respect to water. Because we are elevated, you cannot build a full-on structure, you have to create open areas, so if in fact there were to be floods, water can pass through that ground floor level. 
Our building department is not a big group, so our building plans get reviewed by an independent 3rd party and are then reviewed and checked off by the jurisdiction. We also deal with a smaller municipality water and sewer group, which is a local group here – the Isle of Palms water and sewer commission. 
Our development entitlements are based on a PUD (planned urban development) agreement, while our zoning is actually PDD (planned development division). The entire resort, the full 1,600 acres, is zoned withing Isle of Palms under our PDD, pursuant to a development agreement that was established by the original developers back in 1972. 
Clearly, we are all familiar with the grand live oaks that are indigenous to the Lowcountry. They are a big part of our history. You could say that about everywhere in the South. You’ve got beautiful live oaks with moss in the trees. One of the things that was very interesting about our project here at the Sweetgrass Inn, was that upon surveying the property it was determined we had 9 grand live oaks that ranged in years appx. from 60 to 120 years old, maybe even longer. The trees were protected by the Isle of Palms tree ordinances. We were very fortunate that three of the trees were able to stay in place. And then through a very sophisticated process we were able to relocate the other 6 trees that were in the way of the future construction. Everyone talks about the beautiful live oaks that line an entry way to an arrival experience, whether it be to a home or a commercial facility. We have now been able to provide that same aura and feeling with our live oaks lining the entry to the new Sweetgrass Inn and to the entry to the overall Resort at Wild Dunes.
The Resort is part of a larger community here at Wild Dunes. We have all shared an arrival gate since inception. We now have created a separate dedicated entry for Resort guests, which will alleviate community traffic at the main gate and will provide Resort guests the opportunity to initially interface with a Resort employee. 
Interacting with the Resort, because we are actually building a hotel within an operating resort, so we have to always be cognizant to the fact that we have neighbors, and those neighbors are not only home owners, but guests of the Resort. We always take that into account during construction. 

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