Mount Pleasant seeks wise growth

Mount Pleasant residents (left to right) Gene Gowe, Mary Thomas, Howard Jaffe and Jane Thompson play cards Tuesday at Mount Pleasant's Stokes-Marshall Senior Center. All of them moved from other areas. "We didn't have any family here," said Mary Thomas who came from Ohio. "We just up and moved."

MOUNT PLEASANT - Refer to this booming community and most folks think of upscale neighborhoods chock-full of families living in pricey single-family houses.

But that isn't entirely what the town is - or at least not what elected leaders want for its long-term future, according to a comprehensive plan update that Town Council unanimously approved Tuesday.

"We want to make this a place where people of all ages want to live and have opportunities to do so," Senior Planner Kelly Cousino said.

The comprehensive plan is a state-required document that provides a big-picture view for future zoning and planning decisions. The current plan was created in 2009. This required five-year update likely will go to Council for a final vote in October.

In a town facing tremendous growth-related pressures, officials repeatedly have said they are trying to manage the development boom rather than be controlled by it. But just how to do so remains hotly debated, especially in a desirable community confined by water, marsh and a national forest on all sides.

"We're pretty much an island," Councilman Paul Gawrych said. "That's something to think about as we move forward."

The plan's update focuses on meeting the needs of residents, from young adults to a booming older population, so that Mount Pleasant becomes a community where people can live their entire lives. Officials reaffirmed plans to create urban areas on the southern end of town with more dense development and mixed-use housing. The goal is to create options for seniors, young professionals and people such as police, teachers and others who can easily get priced out of the town's robust housing market.

For instance, the median house value in 1990 was $96,900 and rose to $334,800 in 2010. The town's estimated per-capita income was $40,000 in 2010 compared to $27,831 for all of Charleston County, according to the town's 2014 demographics report.

Under the plan, new development would become gradually less dense moving toward the town's northernmost edge to avoid additional sprawl and protect rural areas.

Yet, no discussion about Mount Pleasant's future these days can avoid the controversies urbanization has generated among residents who don't want dense development along Coleman Boulevard especially near Shem Creek and the Old Village, the historic heart of a now sprawling town.

"I don't see where it is spread equally through Mount Pleasant," Councilman Gary Santos said. "It's not fair to put all that density in the southern end of town."

However, Gawrych argued that the town cannot keep growing northward. Soon it will have no place left to grow as it hits Awendaw and the Francis Marion National Forest.

"We've got to look elsewhere," Gawrych added.

Town officials also grappled with growth at the northern end of town as developments including the future 2,000-unit Carolina Park draw more new residents.

In its 2009 plan, the town extended its planning-area boundary up U.S. Highway 17 North to Guerins Bridge Road to "influence development patterns along its northern boundary," the plan said.

That boundary stakes out the town's area of planning and includes recommended land uses even into unincorporated areas that might later want to annex. The updated plan extends that boundary farther north to Steed Creek Road, Awendaw Creek and generally along Halfway Creek Road.

Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall urged council members to stick with a long-term planning view for the town even if individual projects draw controversy or parts need tweaking later.

"We have to look at the larger picture," she said.

Along with housing, the plan addresses a variety of needs facing Mount Pleasant's growing senior population. For instance, several council members voiced support for adding a second senior center in the northern end of town.

"I'm convinced it is needed and necessary," Councilman Chris Nickels said.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.