You may be surprised to learn that Summerville’s population has grown to 44,836, making it the seventh most populous municipality in the state, census figures show.

That’s almost double its 1990 population and puts Flowertown just behind Greenville. Those same census stats show that the tri-county is the third-largest metropolitan statistical area in the state, but we probably have the densest population of all the metro areas.

“Let me say that this rapid growth is sort of a mixed blessing,” said Summerville Mayor Bill Collins. “I believe that communities that grow are healthy communities, and I think you either go forward or you go backwards... It’s a positive thing but it certainly does present challenges.”

Like traffic. As Bo Petersen reports today, traffic has led to the need to widen Dorchester Road, and project delays there have frustrated a lot of people.

And as Collins pointed out, you can’t widen Interstate 26 enough to deal with the traffic problem between Summerville and Charleston. Which is why he’s excited about alternatives, specifically public transportation.

He’s on a Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments committee that’s expected to get a report his week on the feasibility of merging CARTA and Tri-County LINK.

“We don’t need duplication of services,” he said. “We’ve got to do things collaboratively as a region if we’re going to cope with the growth that’s taking place throughout the tri-county.”

Good advice for anyone running a municipality these days.

Regional planning

Summerville happens to be in the process of selecting a firm to do its master plan, the document which will steer the town’s direction for the next 10 to 15 years. That makes it a great time to think broadly and deeply about what’s most important to the community. For Collins, that means things like making the town more pedestrian and bike friendly, adding more parks and playgrounds, and considering where it would be reasonable to put higher density development. And he wants increased tourism to play a part too. Collins sees great opportunities for not only the development of Colonial Dorchester as a tourist attraction, but for Summerville as a destination for day trips for those tourists coming off the cruise ships in Charleston, via an express bus, of course.

By the way, for all those folks who have told the mayor not to raise their taxes, he’s heard you. “I think working collaboratively with public/private partnership, cities and counties working together, those things can happen.”

Community challenges

Of course, there are downsides to growth, and crime is unfortunately one of them.

Crime in Summerville is hardly the same as crime in Charleston or North Charleston, but the mayor wants to get out in front of it, so he supports giving Police Chief Bruce Owens the funding for overtime pay if there’s a particular area of town that needs extra police attention.

But he also has a request for the increased group of residents: look out for your neighbors.

“There’s never enough participation in community crime watch,” Collins said.

Even Goose Creek, clocking in at No. 10 on that census list, has had to make adjustments in the face of increased crime as the city has grown.

That’s the downside to living in a desirable area, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be enough to keep people away.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or