MOUNT PLEASANT — More than 75 residents met here Friday to question whether the town made a mistake in allowing Earl’s Court, a new mix of shops and small single-family homes at the front door of the Old Village.
Many said they felt the project, where construction began last month, is too dense and will alter the character of their neighborhood, the town’s oldest.
The critics included Ann Edwards, wife of former Gov. Jim Edwards, who described the Old Village as a “pearl,” a quiet neighborhood where dogs can lie in the street.
“This is the way of life. This is our history here,” she said. “Where are all these people going to park? Can we reconsider?”
The town’s Planning Commission is set to review aspects of Earl’s Court on Wednesday, but town officials said the development — set to include neighborhood shops and up to 26 homes at a density of 20 homes per acre — already has the zoning approvals it needs.
In response to growing concern in the Old Village, town officials called Friday’s meeting to explain how the development got to this point and to answer residents’ questions.
Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said the town changed its zoning around 2006 to allow denser, taller development along Johnnie Dodds, Coleman, Chuck Dawley and Ben Sawyer boulevards in hopes of directing more growth there instead of further out toward Awendaw.
“We can’t stop more people from moving in. You can’t put officers at the base of the Ravenel bridge and stop people,” he said. “It’s either we start getting denser around an urban core or we get sprawl.”
The town’s zoning change had little immediate effect on its landscape because the economy tanked in 2008. But as the town recovers, not only are the first four homes being framed at Earl’s Court, but the Beach Co.’s four-story Boulevard apartment and retail complex has taken shape along Coleman. It was built with a similar idea of channeling taller, denser development along the town’s established commercial streets.
But The Boulevard also drew fire from some Friday, including Lucy Gordon of Simmons Pointe. “Just because many people want to live here does not mean we need to build high rises to pack them in,” she said.
Earl’s Court is being developed by the I’On Group, but the developer didn’t address the crowd Friday. According to its website, the new neighborhood includes 26 single-family homes, all with different designs between 1,000 and 1,700 square feet. It includes a small square, Earl’s Court, named after a Labrador retriever who once held court there.
I’On Group Founder Vince Graham said it was designed to advance the Old Village’s informal charm and authenticity. “Once complete, our hope is that Earl’s Court will blend seamlessly into the surrounding Village,” he said on the website.
But that is not how many residents see it. “This takes away the appeal of our neighborhood,” one man said. “We paid top dollar to be in the neighborhood. This lets you get in for $250,000.”
While the zoning is in place, residents learned that the state Department of Transportation still must approve any plans to allow on-street parking to meet parking requirements there. Others suggested the town should move to block or scale down the next phase.
“What can we change?” resident Dave Shimp asked. “Please tell us how we can get in the system and change the rules.”
Councilman Elton Carrier said it’s possible that Town Council has some options here, “but I’m not going to put the town’s revenues or bank account at stake.” He encouraged residents to contact other council members, adding, “Don’t just hone in on me. I’m glad to take it, but you need to talk to everybody.”
Mayor Linda Page addressed the group briefly before excusing herself to attend a prior commitment. She thanked them for their interest, adding, “We’re going to agree, and we’re not going to agree. This is how it gets good,” she said.
DeMoura said the town — which just recently became South Carolina’s fourth largest municipality — continues to boom, and its population is approaching 75,000. “We’re sort of victims of our own success,” he said.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.