MOUNT PLEASANT - Continuing their push to preserve Coleman Boulevard, residents packed a planning meeting Monday to protest zoning that allows 75-foot-tall buildings on three properties along the road as part of plans to create an urban corridor.
"I want to see our community dotted with oak tress, not high-rise buildings," resident Vernon Owens said. "We're not going to solve the overdevelopment problem with more development."
Most town officials have supported creating urban corridors along Coleman and Johnnie Dodds boulevards to encourage and manage growth and to attract more mixed-use housing for seniors and people who could walk or bike to work.
However, the move has alarmed some residents who fear America's ninth-fastest-growing large city is being overrun by growth. In recent months, they have jammed town meetings to contend the town is moving too fast with development plans and not giving ample consideration to protecting places like Shem Creek and Coleman.
Residents, many of whom also object to a planned office building and parking garage near Shem Creek, filled the town's Planning Committee meeting Monday.
"Seventy-five feet is just not conducive to the town of Mount Pleasant," resident Jim Owens said. "What I fear is a lot of public resentment with this, and I don't want to see that happen."
The building height allowance isn't new.
In 2008, Town Council altered zoning to encourage development along Coleman. That included allowing 75-foot buildings on three properties: Moultrie Plaza, The Boulevard and Sea Island Shopping Center.
Yet, new alarms over projects such as the Shem Creek office building and parking garage have resurrected the issue.
"I think you need to listen to the public and reduce the density of those buildings to something more manageable," said Jimmy Bagwell, who served on the Council in 1979 when it wrestled with 55-foot building heights in the area.
Bagwell added that few residents are happy with heights of The Boulevard where buildings at their tallest are 60 feet.
Councilman Gary Santos asked that the item be brought up for discussion. He said density will bring more congestion to Coleman and surrounding streets.
"This is the most historical area we have in Mount Pleasant," Santos said. "This is going to take away the ambiance."
He wants buildings along Coleman restricted to 45 feet.
However, few if any other committee members appeared interested in changing the 75-foot allowance.
Councilman Mark Smith noted that the town has changed its rules on building heights several times in recent decades, making it tough for property owners to make plans for their property.
"I hope we can find something and stick with it so property owners know what they can do," Councilman Chris O'Neal said.
Meanwhile, in a potential olive branch to concerned residents, committee members backed Mayor Linda Page's push to have all new commercial building plans go before the town's Commercial Design Review Board.
Doing so could ease future controversies by giving the public early views of projects and an opportunity to voice concerns.
The panel of seven appointed residents hold public meetings to review architecture and factors such as landscaping.
"We need to get citizens involved at the beginning, not at the end," Page told residents. "We're giving you back part of the process so that it is an open, transparent process."
During the recession, Town Council changed rules so that developers can choose to have their plans reviewed by town planning staff rather than the review board, a process that doesn't provide for public input. The goal was to streamline the process and attract development.
Since then, all developers have gone through the staff, said Christiane Farrell, planning and engineering director.
Committee members agreed that given recent resident concerns, the public review board's input is needed.
"We want to ensure that we are all on the same page as we move forward," planning Chairwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall said.
Although Councilman Mark Smith worried the change could bog down the review process for small business owners, he and other members voted to recommend it.
"While it might not be the most expedient process, it is the most open, honest and transparent," said resident Carole Tinkey, who used to serve on the Old Village Historic District Commission.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.
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