MOUNT PLEASANT — Heeding concerns expressed by residents of the fastest-growing city east of the Mississippi, Mount Pleasant Council agreed to slash the allowed height of new buildings along Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards Wednesday.
Some in the town believe large apartment buildings are changing the character of the town, and contributing to rapid population growth that’s led to overcrowded schools, heavy traffic, and as one resident said Wednesday, the need to make reservations at local restaurants.
Now, in areas where 55-foot buildings were allowed, the new limit would be 45 feet, with no more than three stories. At two shopping centers where 75-foot buildings would have been allowed, Moultrie Plaza and Sea Island Shopping Center, the new limit is 55 feet.
The 8-1 vote, with Mark Smith in the opposition, immediately blocks developments higher than the proposed limits from being submitted, but the rules won’t be finalized until August and could change along the way. The Planning Commission and a Town Council committee will review the rules before they go up for a final vote.
As proposed by Councilman Gary Santos, the new rules would actually allow taller buildings on Chuck Dawley Boulevard, which currently has a 40-foot limit. That wasn’t his intention, he said, but Santos said the rules could change before they are ultimately adopted.
The building height reduction rolls back a key aspect of the town’s 2008 Coleman Boulevard Plan, which was aimed at creating a revitalized and more urban commercial corridor through the south end of Mount Pleasant. Zoning related to that plan allowed buildings up to 55 feet tall in most areas along Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards, and 75-foot-tall buildings in three locations.
“I think what you are seeing is a revolt against the kind of planning we have had,” Jimmy Bagwell, speaking for the board of Save Shem Creek Corp., told Town Council. “We don’t want more Boulevards and we don’t want more parking garages.”
The 75-foot height limit was meant to accommodate parking garages, which planners thought would be needed if Moultrie Plaza and Sea Island Shopping Center — two of the three locations — were redeveloped. The third location is now home to The Boulevard, a 60-foot-tall apartment complex with a parking garage, whose creation promoted a backlash against taller buildings and large apartment complexes in the town.
Mayor Linda Page proposed scaling back the height limit, at just those locations, to 65 feet but found no support.
Sea Islands Shopping Center owner Batson Hewitt urged town officials to delay any action reducing height limits.
“We need a long-term master plan, not spot zoning,” he said.
Gray Taylor, a lawyer representing the owners of Moultrie Plaza, said the shopping center could be revitalized and become home to a major retailer, hotel and offices. He also urged further study of the Coleman Boulevard corridor.
The rules proposed by Santos and tentatively adopted take 20 feet off the allowed height of buildings at those shopping centers and cap new buildings at four stories.
This isn’t the first time Town Council considered reducing height limits.
In August, 2014, the town’s Planning Commission recommended cutting the height limit from 75 feet to 60, but Town Council voted 7-2 to reject that recommendation (Councilmen Elton Carrier and Gary Santos cast the no votes). The council voted unanimously at that 2014 meeting to lower allowable building heights for 10 properties on Shem Creek from 55 feet to 45 feet.
The makeup of Town Council changed significantly in the 2015 election, when candidates concerned about rapid development and allied with Save Shem Creek were swept into office, setting the stage for Wednesday’s decision.
Reach David Slade at (843) 937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.