‘Guardian at the gate’
The Charleston Planning Commission upheld the city’s urban growth boundary, and citizen support for it, by unanimously rejecting a development plan for a large parcel on Johns Island.
City Council shouldn’t have any difficulty supporting the commission’s decision. After all, council originally endorsed the plan to establish the boundary.
The commission’s 6-0 vote Wednesday recognized the continuing importance of the growth boundary, designed to limit urban sprawl on the island.
It was also a nod to those residents who opposed the rezoning request as counter to the limited development goals established by the city.
As commission Chairman Frank McCann said, “I think the city of Charleston is the guardian at the gate. I think we have to be strict. When the city crossed into Johns Island, we crossed with promises and I think we have to keep them.”
Indeed, the city down-zoned the property in question, at River and Plow Ground roads, to accord with its urban growth boundary, and has since fought a legal challenge by the landowners. The city prevailed in federal district court.
The case is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which required that the city and the landowners attempt to mediate the case before returning to the courtroom.
Currently, the property is zoned for conservation use, which would allow one house per 1.5 acres.
The proposal rejected by the Planning Commission would have provided for a planned unit development, increasing density about 50 percent with clustered housing. It included an assisted living facility, as well as some retail and light industrial use.
Chief city planner Tim Keane described the proposal as preferable to a conventional suburban development that could be built under the existing zoning. The groundwork was laid in a planning charette in 2008, he said.
The commission’s action should encourage planners to go back to the drawing board.
Currently about a third of the island is within the city limits, and population in that area continues to boom.
By establishing the growth boundary, the city said: That’s far enough for urban sprawl.
The public response at the commission meeting is a clear indication that residents continue to support the idea.
“We want to be able to rely on zoning as an appropriate tool for maintaining the rural character of Johns Island as well as honoring the urban growth boundary,” the Concerned Citizens of Johns Island said in a statement to the commission.
Honoring the urban growth boundary is important to residents, the city’s planning credibility and the preservation of the rural character that remains on Johns Island.