Bursting at the seams

Crews were finishing up construction of single-family homes Monday on Shem Drive in Mount Pleasant. The town was the 10th-fastest-growing in the nation in 2015, according to the Census Bureau.

MOUNT PLEASANT — No city east of the Mississippi grew as quickly as Mount Pleasant did in 2015, according to newly released census estimates.

The town was the 10th-fastest-growing in the nation, among cities with at least 50,000 residents.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because Mount Pleasant was on a similar list two years ago, when it was ninth-fastest-growing city nationally. Such rapid growth is either a blessing or a curse, depending on whom you ask.

The explosion of residential development and rapid population growth in Mount Pleasant started in the 1980s, pausing only for recessions along the way. Once a sleepy fishing village on the way to the beach, the town’s population hit 81,317 in July, the Census Bureau estimated Thursday.

That’s 22,213 more residents than the town claimed in 2005, and 13,330 more than in 2010.

“That validates some of the concerns we have had about growth,” said Councilman Gary Santos. “We’re growing at a very fast rate, and we need to slow it down. You don’t have to have experts to tell you, you just have to try driving around in Mount Pleasant.”

The town’s internal estimates show slower growth. Just how fast the town is growing, and how to manage that growth, has been a hot issue that influenced November’s Town Council elections, with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the group Save Shem Creek wading into the fray.

In the past year the town has approved a growth-management plan, put a moratorium on new apartment building proposals, and started discussions about raising impact fees and putting new limits on building height and accessory dwellings.

During an April council discussion about whether the town should refuse to accept plans for new apartment buildings for six months — a plan the town adopted — Councilman Bob Brimmer said “the reality is that the growth rate has stabilized and is beginning to go down.”

In contrast to census estimates, the town’s official growth rate based upon certificates of occupancy for new homes has been falling since 2013.

“He (Brimmer) stated that the town needs to maintain some growth of approximately 2.9 percent, which is healthy,” the town’s official meeting minutes said.

The thing about population rates is, 2.9 percent growth in one year is quite a lot. It was enough to make Redwood City, California, the nation’s 54th-fastest-growing city last year. It’s a growth rate that would double any city’s population in about 24 years.

The Census Bureau estimated Mount Pleasant’s population growth rate was much higher — 4.7 percent last year — well above the town’s estimate but still a far cry from the town’s 13.7 percent growth seen in 2000. Back then, the town challenged census estimates as being too low, and had a special census in 2005 to prove it.

“We feel confident with our dwelling unit totals,” Administrator Eric DeMoura said. “We are less certain about our total population estimates because we develop those numbers by multiplying the dwelling units times people per household from the last census.”

While no city in South Carolina gained as much population as Mount Pleasant during the 12 months ending July 1, others did see rapid growth. Greenville was the 25th-fastest-growing in the country, and Rock Hill came in at No. 91.

Most of the nation’s fastest-growing cities were in Texas.

Some smaller towns and cities in South Carolina had even higher growth rates than Mount Pleasant but did not make the census rankings because they have fewer than 50,000 residents. Hanahan’s population, for example, grew 8.6 percent, as the small city added more residents than did North Charleston.

Hanahan City Administrator Johnny Cribb said the rapid growth there is no surprise. The city, located between North Charleston and Goose Creek, saw its population rise 39 percent from 2000 to 2010.

“Residential growth has remained strong in Hanahan,” Cribb said.

He said that with another 3,500 people, the city would be full.

“Our total build-out of the city is probably around 25,000,” Cribb said.

Charleston continued to close in on Columbia, nearly regaining its former status as the Palmetto State’s largest city, but according to the census estimates did not quite make it in 2015. Population estimates produced by the city of Charleston, however, suggest the Holy City is already larger than Columbia by several thousand residents.

Reach David Slade at (843) 937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.