Mount Pleasant asked to prohibit new apartment buildings

Mount Pleasant Councilman Joe Bustos is proposing that the town temporarily prohibit new multi-family developments.

MOUNT PLEASANT — In the latest attempt to restrict growth, a councilman is proposing a town-wide moratorium on multi-family housing development.

A temporary halt to all residential development along Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards is also proposed.

“Our infrastructure is behind, and it’s getting more behind every day,” said Councilman Joe Bustos. “The one thing we can impact is the rate of growth.”

Bustos doesn’t think his proposals will get enough votes to be approved at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, but he said that if nothing’s done about the pace of development, “it’s going to crush us at some point.”

“We’re just falling further and further behind,” he said, citing crowded roads and schools, and growing demands for town services.

In addition to halting residential construction, except for single-family homes, Bustos proposes banning accessory dwelling units and changing zoning rules to limit additional construction behind existing homes. Accessory dwelling units are small second homes typically built in the back yard, or above the garage, of an existing home.

The Charleston Trident Association of Realtors and the Charleston Home Builders Association were not amused when Bustos first laid out these ideas at a Planning Committee meeting April 5.

Representatives of the Realtors and the builders said the potential restrictions would make housing less affordable in the town, where the average single-family home sells for more than $400,000.

“I think any time you start messing with supply and demand, it just starts to mess things up,” said Philip Ford, executive vice president of the Charleston Home Builders Association. “I think if there are concerns about parking, height, or whatever, there are ways to deal with that other than saying you just can’t build any more.

“I think if we really just sat down, as a community, instead of throwing stones at each other, I really think we could work some of these things out,” he said.

Ford said lots of the traffic in Mount Pleasant is due to people who can’t afford to live there commuting to and from jobs in the town.

The town previously offered incentives to create more affordable housing, allowing developers to build larger buildings or more homes if some of the units were sold or rented at below-market rates. Those incentives were scrapped last fall in the face of criticism from residents and produced little affordable housing.

The only apartment complex that made use of the incentives, known as density bonuses, was The Boulevard on Coleman Boulevard.

“Some call it the ‘most hated structure’ in Mount Pleasant and view it as the epitome of the failure of mixed-use space,” said a panel convened by the Urban Land Institute to review the town’s growth-management plans, sponsored by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

Public reaction to The Boulevard also prompted a so-far unsuccessful attempt by some council members to limit new buildings on Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards to a height of 45 feet, or three stories.

The town is feeling the broad effects of a building boom that followed the recession. In 2009, in the depths of the recession, just 167 new homes were permitted in the town. In each of the past three years, more than 1,170 permits were issued.

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