MOUNT PLEASANT — With property values soaring, the town’s older, smaller houses are increasingly being purchased for the land they sit upon, then torn down and replaced with grander dwellings.
The teardowns are a symptom of the hot real estate market in Mount Pleasant, the fastest-growing city east of the Mississippi River, but also a complication for a town struggling to find solutions to home affordability. With median house prices north of $400,000, the middle class workforce is increasingly being priced out.
Consider the corner of Shem and Vincent drives in the town’s Brookgreen Meadows neighborhood, walking distance from Coleman Boulevard and Shem Creek. Until last year there was a small brick duplex on the corner, built in the 1950s, and similar homes extended up both streets. When they were built, Mount Pleasant had fewer than 5,000 residents.
Those investor-owned duplexes each contained two 525-square-foot homes, renting for between $500 and $600 monthly, but most were demolished in the past year. Now a new house sits on the corner of Shem and Vincent drives, listed for rent at $4,450 a month.
“They served a purpose,” said town resident Mike Macy, who owned two of the duplexes. “They were always well-occupied and well-rented.”
Macy and other owners sold 11 of those duplexes, and they are being replaced by homes selling in the $500,000 range. On a section of Vincent Drive where three duplexes used to sit, there are now eight 3-story townhomes under construction.
“It’s a shame because it changes the character of the area,” said Gary Santos, a town councilman who grew up in the adjacent Shemwood neighborhood. “You might have a lot of nice little homes, homes that people have renovated, and then you see some big new monstrosity.”
The town doesn’t require permission to tear down a home, just a permit, unless the house sits in the 30-block Old Village Historic District, roughly between the Charleston Harbor and Royall Avenue. Once a property is cleared, zoning rules dictate what can be built.
“They just buy them for the property,” Santos said. “The problem is, they are coming in and building bigger houses, and that upsets people who live in smaller houses behind them.”
Building lots in older sections of Mount Pleasant can cost as much as new homes in other parts of the Charleston area, or more.
“$300,000 lots are the new $175,000,” Macy said.
For example, when a 3-bedroom “handyman special” on Simmons Street went up for sale in the spring of 2014, it sold in just 12 days, for $250,000, and was promptly torn down.
In Scanlonville, and in older communities along major streets such as Mathis Ferry, Long Point and Rifle Range roads, teardowns have been increasing, but the town’s Old Village has seen the largest share. That’s both due to the desirability of the area and the fact that older sections of town are more likely to have small, older homes.
The town has issued 346 residential and commercial demolition permits since the start of 2013, and 62 of them were in the Old Village.
“We’ve heard from some folks who have concerns,” said town Planning Director Christiane Farrell. “There are concerns about the character of the area, the size of the homes and possible impacts on drainage.”
Nearby Isle of Palms had a similar experience during the booming housing market before the recession. Many small, one-story homes on the island — some built during the mid-20th century by J.C. Long, like the ones in Brookgreen Meadows — were sold for their land and demolished.
“I think it does cause a community to examine their building and zoning codes, in terms of lot coverage, building heights and things of that nature,” said Isle of Palms Administrator Linda Tucker. “When the city of Isle of Palms went through this process we literally built models of houses, to scale, to demonstrate what the codes would allow.”
“Then we made changes to try and improve that,” she said.
Mount Pleasant has been reviewing drainage-related regulations, which can dictate how much of a property can be covered by buildings and other impervious surfaces. The town also recently tightened rules for building small, secondary dwellings on properties.
The affordable housing puzzle may be more of a challenge in a town where the land needed to build a house costs more than most houses in the greater Charleston area.
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.