Short order: Mt. Pleasant weighs new height proposals

Construction of the 325-unit apartment complex The Boulevard, in 2013, set off a backlash against Mount Pleasant rule changes that allowed taller buildings.

MOUNT PLEASANT — The town set out to encourage higher-density growth along Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards eight years ago, aiming to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown area with multistory buildings, but opposition from residents shocked by the result has officials now looking at chopping down building height rules.

“I don’t know what council will do, but I do know the citizens don’t want 75-foot buildings on Coleman Boulevard,” said Councilman Gary Santos, who is leading the charge to restrict building height.

When Town Council’s Planning Committee meets at 1 p.m. Monday, it will discuss calls for limiting buildings along the boulevards to three stories, no more than 45 feet high.

The proposed limit along the main route through Mount Pleasant from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Sullivan’s Island would be the town’s most restrictive height limit there since at least 1982.

Current rules allow for 55-foot buildings in most locations and 75-foot buildings on three properties, one of which is now home to The Boulevard apartments.

The potential redevelopment of two shopping centers where the tallest buildings are currently permitted, Moultrie Plaza and Sea Island Shopping Center, could be reshaped by the proposed 30-foot reduction in allowed height.

The town’s 2008 plan to revitalize Coleman Boulevard suggested those properties would be good locations for parking garages, which a three-story rule would make impractical.

“I hope there’s going to be a conversation about it,” George Brewer, an owner of the Moultrie Plaza shopping center and an Old Village resident, said when the issue was discussed at a Feb. 9 council meeting.

Brewer was a member of the Coleman Revitalization Advisory Board, which in 2008 recommended allowing 55-foot-tall buildings along many parts of the boulevards and 75-foot-tall buildings at Moultrie Plaza, Sea Island Shopping Center and the Coleman Boulevard property where The Boulevard apartment complex now stands.

Councilman Mark Smith, a member of the Planning Committee, said he’s opposed to changing the rules. He notes that Town Council acted just months ago on growth-management regulations.

“We just went through revisiting this topic at our October meeting, and now we’re revisiting it again, placing an unnecessary hardship on these property owners,” said Smith. “It’s not right, it’s unfair, and in my opinion it’s government working against its citizens and against property rights.”

The height rules were just one aspect of plans five years ago aimed at revitalizing the boulevards, including a controversial traffic roundabout planned where Coleman turns into Ben Sawyer, at the intersection with Chuck Dawley Boulevard.

Brian Hellman, a lawyer representing Sea Islands Shopping Center owner Batson Hewitt, also expressed concern to Town Council about potential changes to the 75-foot rule at the recent council meeting.

“The shopping center has been in his family since his father developed it in the 1960s,” Hellman said.

Development-related controversies have been getting expensive for the town’s taxpayers.

Mount Pleasant recently budgeted an extra $500,000 for legal fees for five development-related lawsuits, most involving projects the town did not allow, and one in which Save Shem Creek Corp. is suing the town for allowing a 55-foot-tall office building and parking garage now under construction at Coleman Boulevard and Mill Street, close to Shem Creek.

“Density has its place, but not on Coleman Boulevard,” Santos said. “I want (businesses) to be successful, but I want my community to have the character everyone has come to know and love.”

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552.