Charleston County to ask residents to help shape plan for future development

Charleston County is about to present residents with proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan, which is meant to guide the county's growth and development policies through the coming years.

At a series of meetings this month, residents will have a chance to help shape the plan, which could impact the sort of development that takes place in the fast-growing county.

Those who live in rural and newly suburban parts of the county may be particularly interested in proposed changes to Charleston County's Urban Growth Boundary - a line on the map that's meant to mark the end of dense, urban and suburban development.

A draft of the plan calls for shifting 1,249 acres of unincorporated properties to the "rural" side of the line.

"The urban growth boundary has always been our big-picture item, and these refinements will affect people who live along those edges," said Joel Evans, a county planner involved with the plan.

"Everything outside that line should be lower density," he said. "We'll be refining more what that means."

In a 2013 letter to the county's Planning Commission, the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors said "moving land outside the UGB lowers property values of those in question and has a negative impact on (land owners') lifelong investment."

The boundary line can impact the sort of development allowed on a property, as well as access to public utilities such as sewer service. The county, the city of Charleston and the town of Mount Pleasant each have an urban growth boundary line, and in most cases the line recognized by the governments is the same.

There are exceptions, such as in Charleston, where the city extended its boundary line on the west side of Bees Ferry Road to allow the proposed Long Savannah development, prior to the recession. The development did not happen, as the real estate market crashed.

The growth boundary lines are particularly important in rural areas facing development pressure, including Johns Island, the west end of Charleston County, and areas in and around the north end of Mount Pleasant and Awendaw.

The Charleston Trident Association of Realtors has told the county that the group would support any extension of the boundary line, which CTAR said would mean "additional property rights for landowners."

The latest draft of the Comprehensive Plan calls for moving about 3 acres of land from the rural side of the line to the urban/suburban side, while moving 1,249 acres to the rural side.

County planner Andrea Pietras said the goal is to adjust the boundary line "for consistency with the urban growth boundaries adopted by the city of Charleston and the town of Mount Pleasant and to better follow parcel boundaries and geographic features.

Pietras said the county did not have a current map showing the proposed boundary line changes, but she said maps will be available at the public workshop meetings.

More broadly, comprehensive plans outline a community's aspirations for the future, such as encouraging the development of housing that residents can afford. Regulations and initiatives to implement such goals can later follow.

"The comprehensive plan sets the future course for ordinances," said Ryan Castle, government affairs director at CTAR. "I think it's just something where people need to weigh in, look at how the county is growing, and express their opinions."

Any government with zoning rules must have a comprehensive plan, and those plans must be reviewed every five years and updated every 10 years. Dorchester County just approved its Comprehensive Plan update in May, Berkeley County's review isn't due yet, and many local governments are conducting reviews of their own plans now.

In Mount Pleasant, a meeting about the town's Comprehensive Plan attracted a crowd on May 29.

Mount Pleasant's plan targets ways to accommodate growth while maintaining the town's livability. For instance, it calls for several higher-density corridors on the southern end of town that would gradually decrease in density heading north. However, several recent high-density developments, especially along Coleman Boulevard, have generated considerable objection from nearby residents. The meeting last week drew at least 60 people who sounded unified calls for the town to slow its growth and be more mindful of preserving destinations such as Shem Creek.

Jennifer Berry Hawes contributed to this report. Reach David Slade at 937-5552.