Mt. Pleasant in top 10 fastest-growing cities

Mount Pleasant's population increased more than any other town or city in South Carolina in 2013, and home construction there continues at a brisk pace to prepare for more new residents.

Highlighting just how quickly the Charleston area's population is increasing, the Census Bureau said Mount Pleasant was the nation's ninth-fastest-growing large city in 2013.

Longtime residents of the town might need a minute here to digest the idea that Mount Pleasant is a "large city." The town had less than 7,000 residents in 1970, but nearly 75,000 lived there in mid-2013.

In addition to having one of the nation's fastest growth rates last year, Mount Pleasant had the largest population gain in South Carolina. The town added 2,938 residents, accounting for nearly 6 percent of the entire state's population growth, the Census Bureau estimated.

"It's a very safe community, we have the best public schools in South Carolina, and our quality of life; we're right by the ocean, and our taxes are low," said town Administrator Eric DeMoura.

"It's great that people see us that way, but it is a challenge," he said. "How do you maintain the characteristics that bring people here - the charm, the quality education, the public safety - against a tremendous influx of people?"

Mount Pleasant is not alone in seeing rapid population growth in the Lowcountry. The Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Hilton Head metropolitan areas were the three fastest-growing on the Atlantic Coast, an earlier census report concluded, and as a result South Carolina ranked 11th among states for population growth in 2013.

Town and city limits separate Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant, but they are the Palmetto State's second, third and fourth-largest municipalities. Together, they gained more than 21,500 residents in the short time since the 2010 census was completed, and more than 7,300 just last year.

Smaller towns and cities in the area are growing quickly as well.

Moncks Corner and Goose Creek have both seen double-digit population growth since 2010. Hanahan and Summerville aren't far behind. And several enormous developments - Nexton, Cane Bay, Carnes Crossroads - are underway in unincorporated Berkeley County between Summerville and Moncks Corner.

"This is where it's going to happen," said Ken Seeger, president of the Community Development & Land Management Group at MeadWestvaco Corp., which plans to build about 10,000 homes at Nexton, along with offices, shopping, schools and hotels.

Growth rates - the pace of growth - is important because rapid growth can overwhelm local resources such as schools and roads. During the run-up to the real estate meltdown, Mount Pleasant put limits on residential building permits, but later ended those restrictions.

"The way we defended (the limits) in court was that our infrastructure needed to catch up," DeMoura said in a recent interview. "Now, we have caught up."

Last year the town issued permits for 1,174 homes, the most since the peak of the building boom in 2005. In 2009, amid the Great Recession, just 167 permits were issued.

Wendy Mulqueen is a Mount Pleasant resident who welcomes the resumption of growth. She and Danny Mulqueen were the first residents of the huge new Carolina Park development, behind Wando High School, in 2009.

Due to the recession, the development was frozen in place until last year, and the Mulqueens were living in a partially-developed subdivision that only had three other homes.

"Everything that's going on now is just what we've been waiting for," said Wendy Mulqueen, who now has lots of new neighbors.

"We didn't buy out here to be alone," she said. "We built out here purposefully because we thought there would be life, and people, and the hustle and bustle of shops and businesses."

Carolina Park is permitted for more than 1,700 single-family homes, so there should be a lot more people there soon.

For town residents, all the growth has come at a cost. Mount Pleasant property taxes and several fees are rising this year, and all Charleston County residents continue to pay extra sales taxes to fund road and school construction in Mount Pleasant and other areas.

DeMoura said the town government essentially loses money on every new home that's built in Mount Pleasant, unless the home is worth $800,000 or more, because the municipal services cost more than the taxes cover.

Last year the town would have collected $1,226 in tax on an owner-occupied home worth $800,000. A more typical Mount Pleasant home, worth $300,000, would have been generated $460 in town taxes. The town's property tax rate will rise nearly 8 percent this year.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552