Warning that "a vocal minority may impede or derail" plans to redevelop Coleman Boulevard, real estate developers and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce are taking a more public stance in the debate over high-density construction in Mount Pleasant.
Residents upset by urban-style development prompted the Town Council in August to tentatively approve minor changes to building regulations, reducing the height allowed on certain properties along Shem Creek, but the council has left most of the Coleman Boulevard plan intact.
At a meeting of the Chamber's Developers Council on Friday morning fliers for the recently created Partnership for Responsible Growth were distributed, calling for support of the Coleman Boulevard Plan, which calls for taller and more urban-looking buildings, and more of a "Main Street" style.
Coleman Boulevard runs through the oldest part of Mount Pleasant, which has grown from a community of less than 2,000 people in 1950 to a town that's home to about 75,000 today. Construction there of a multi-story 325-unit apartment complex called The Boulevard, and plans for more of the same, have upset some residents.
The Boulevard was developed by The Beach Company, which quickly sold the first-phase building for a large profit months after it opened this year. Company President John Darby said demographic trends, the Great Recession and the preferences of millennials and hipsters are driving demand for apartments such as The Boulevard.
"It worked, it's full, and they're paying these ridiculous rents," Darby said.
Darby amused the crowd of mostly real estate professionals with his description of hipsters; well-educated people between ages 20 and 30 who are independent thinkers, like ethnic food, and "not only like bicycles, they like fixed-gear bicycles." They like to walk or bike places, relocate often, and marry later in life, he added.
From a developer's point of view, the important factor is that hipsters and other young adults are willing to pay more each month to rent a small apartment than it would cost them to pay the mortgage on a larger house.
Darby said the demand for quality apartments in urban areas is strong throughout the Southeast.
"We have a project in Greenville that's larger than The Boulevard and we're getting ready to start another one," he said.
A panel discussion about the future of development in Mount Pleasant was scheduled to follow Darby's comments, but it amounted to four members of Town Council generally reaffirming their support for the town's current development plans and regulations.
"You play a major role in our decision-making process," Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall assured the Chamber of Commerce members.
Councilman Mark Smith made a point of personally thanking Darby for his work in Mount Pleasant. The Beach Company has built a number of residential and commercial developments in the town, and also sponsored the Developers Council event.
Councilman Paul Gawrych said it bothers him when people move to Mount Pleasant and then complain about growth and development that follows.
"I can tell you, the level of self-interest is getting out of control," he said.
Along with the another councilman, Chris O'Neal, the Town Council members agreed that Mount Pleasant is a wonderful place, and the challenge will be keeping it that way or making it better as growth continues. They also assured developers that the town is working to keep the permit approval process flowing smoothly.
"We're much more business-friendly, understanding that time is money," Smith said.
In August the Town Council rejected a Planning Commission recommendation to lower the maximum building height along Coleman Boulevard to 50 or 60 feet, depending on location, rather than the current 55 or 75 feet. The current height allowances - a dramatic change from the previous 35-foot limit - were created by the town in 2008 but went little-noticed until The Boulevard was built.
The 75-foot rule applies to the sites of The Boulevard, Moultrie Plaza, Sea Island Shopping Center, plus any land that may be incorporated into a development plan for one of those three sites. The rest of Coleman Boulevard has a 55-foot limit.
Stokes-Marshall said growth is surely going to continue, particularly at the north end of town.
"If there's a vacant lot or a few acres next to your property, someone owns that and has the right to develop it," she said.
O'Neal and Gawrych said plans are moving forward to extend Hungryneck Boulevard and widen Highway 41 to better handle traffic. Stokes-Marshall said complaints about traffic are often overstated.
"I hear people talk about traffic jams," she said. "Most folks here don't know what a traffic jam is."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552