Mount Pleasant park plan proceeds — without football stadium

MOUNT PLEASANT — As Charleston County’s parks commission and the town develop plans for 245 acres of land they jointly purchased for $20 million on Rifle Range Road, one of the more ambitious and controversial ideas has already been panned and cast aside.

That idea — a 10,000-seat football stadium with parking for 3,000 cars — was criticized by more than half the people who submitted comments at a public input session in November. Only two of the 101 comments supported the idea.

In addition, some asked if a stadium would be allowed on land purchased mostly with money from the county’s greenbelt program, according to Julie Hensley, director of planning and resource management for the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

“That’s been taken off the table,” she said.

All of which raises the question: How did the proposal to build a 10,000-seat stadium end up in the planning process?

“I seemed to be the only one pushing for it,” said Chris Staubes, vice chairman of the Charleston County school board. “I hit a lot of walls on that one.”

The Charleston County School District plans to build a second Mount Pleasant high school by 2020 on the site of the old Wando school at Mathis Ferry and Whipple roads and a large football stadium to serve both Wando High School and what will be Lucy Beckham High School.

The question is: Where will it be built?

The town has talked about having the school district partner with the town on constructing a shared stadium since 2014, when a new Town Council committee was formed to look at school-related needs.

“Based on input from the community the committee requests that the district consider alternate locations for the Wando Stadium so as to locate the facility in a more central area of town,” the committee recommended, according to town meeting minutes.

“Every option was being talked about,” said Councilman Mark Smith.

The park site on Rifle Range Road was ruled out by Town Council, he said, following the overwhelmingly negative public reaction at the public input meeting in November.

“We’ve moved on to looking at other sites,” said Kate Darby, a school board member who, like Staubes, lives in Mount Pleasant. “The school district and the town of Mount Pleasant are working together on a location for a stadium.”

Meanwhile, the county Park and Recreation Commission and the town are working on plans for one of its largest undeveloped properties, located between Hamlin and Six Mile roads.

The planned extension of Hungry Neck Boulevard will run along, or through, the western edge of the park property, while Rifle Range Road borders the eastern edge.

Even with the stadium idea dead, the town and the county are juggling competing demands and desires for the new park site, which includes a large pond, extensive wetlands, historic trees and earthworks that were part of the Christ Church Confederate defense line.

When the town and the PRC bought the land, preservation of open space and recreation fields were the stated goals.

“It will be the Central Park of Mount Pleasant,” then-Mayor Billy Swails said in 2010.

In the public comments gathered in November, many called for soccer and baseball fields, but many others urged officials to leave the land in a natural state, with trails for walking and biking.

Some county PRC parks include a mix of natural spaces, walking and biking trails, water access and activity-oriented areas such as playgrounds, picnic shelters, dog parks, disc golf, climbing walls and concessions. Three, including Palmetto Islands in Mount Pleasant, have water parks. Some are undeveloped except for trails.

The town’s recreation land is more typically used for youth and adult sports, and Mount Pleasant has been looking for space for additional baseball and multi-use fields.

“We’re looking for several ball fields, whether they are diamonds or rectangular, possibly a gym, and playgrounds, open space and other amenities,” said Ken Ayoub, Mount Pleasant’s recreation director. “Really, until we get something firm back from the design group it will be hard to say how many, or what, we can put on the land.”

When plans are firmed up, the next obstacle will be finding the money to make improvements.

“The only money designated for that site is for the design,” Ayoub said.

Hensley said consultants are preparing conceptual plans for the park site now, and additional public input meetings should be scheduled in the next few months.

“The consultants just need to come up with a plan we can all agree on,” she said.

Staff writer Paul Bowers contributed to this report. Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.