MOUNT PLEASANT — In a move that surprised even the councilman who proposed it, Town Council narrowly approved a 180-day moratorium on new apartment developments in what has been one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.
The vote was a victory for the “Save Shem Creek” candidates who were swept onto Town Council in November, riding a voter backlash against rapid growth and development that many see as a threat to their quality of life.
“We’ve gotten big, we have a lot of people, schools are full, traffic’s bad, and we need to address that,” said Councilman Joe Bustos, who proposed the moratorium. Bustos told The Post and Courier on Monday that he didn’t expect his proposal to be approved.
Councilman Bob Brimmer proved to be the swing vote, joining a 4-3 majority to approve the “pause” in apartment development, after first arguing that single-family home construction was causing the same problems with traffic and crowded schools.
“I don’t know why we are singling out multifamily when we approve a lot more single-family homes,” Brimmer said. He said a new single-family-home development in the north end of town probably creates more traffic problems than an apartment complex near the Ravenel bridge.
Joe Bustos, Will Haynie and Jim Owens also voted for the moratorium, while Mayor Linda Page and councilmen Mark Smith and Elton Carrier opposed it. Councilmen Paul Gawrych and Gary Santos, whose votes would likely have canceled each other out, were absent.
Carrier, a former banker who serves on the board of East Cooper Habitat for Humanity, said the moratorium will make the town’s housing affordability problem worse. The average sale price of a single-family home in the town is above $400,000.
“The economy will take care of our demand and supply,” said Carrier. “It’s just where we live, folks.”
Save Shem Creek Chairman Jimmy Bagwell said Bustos’ plan was “reflecting the will of the people, that was reflected in the last election.”
“We are going to ruin the quality of life in this town if we continue to grow unabated,” said Bagwell.
Bustos’ motion specifically targeted apartment buildings — not multifamily housing in general, which would include townhomes and condominiums.
“Mount Pleasant has a serious affordable housing problem and here we are discussing banning the only affordable kind of housing,” said Patrick Arnold, governmental affairs director for the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.
The town has put limits on development before, but not recently. In 2001, the year after the town saw nearly 14 percent growth in a single year, Mount Pleasant launched a “permit allocation” program to limit development and hold growth to 3 percent yearly.
The permit limits became unnecessary during the housing market downturn — development plunged — and the permit limits were then eliminated. A development boom followed as the economy recovered, although the town’s official growth rate last year was 2.9 percent.
“The reality is, our growth rate has stabilized and is starting to go down,” Brimmer said.
Others noted that adding the same number of people to the town’s population would result in a slowing growth rate, because the population would be larger each year. The town’s population was 47,609 in 2000, the year before the permit-allocation program, and was estimated to be 78,988 last year.
The moratorium takes effect immediately, which means the town won’t accept any new applications for apartment projects. Town residents may not notice the change, however, because more than 2,200 additional apartments were previously approved.
No new apartment developments were approved so far this year, so the 180-day moratorium means the town won’t approve any new apartment plans during most of 2016.
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.