MOUNT PLEASANT — After months of debate, the fight over how tall new buildings should be in parts of this fast-growing town has been settled, and the answer is: three stories.
The decision is a stinging rebuke of the town’s decade-old master plan to revitalize Coleman Boulevard, which called for taller buildings and a more urban streetscape. One of the first large buildings developed under that plan’s more permissive rules was The Boulevard apartment complex on Coleman Boulevard, which prompted a backlash against the idea that more height and greater density were desirable.
With few exceptions, new buildings along Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards will now be limited to 45 feet. The rules limit those buildings to three stories, whereas the prior rules allowed four stories in most places and six in some.
The regulations apply to nearly 300 properties along the three boulevards, including Chuck Dawley, which are the main commercial roads through the oldest parts of town.
Council members affiliated with the Save Shem Creek group led the push for change.
“We feel that the citizens have demanded this,” Jimmy Bagwell, representing the Save Shem Creek Corp. board, told the council. “It’s all about quality of life and preserving our coastal community.”
Bob Brimmer, Joe Bustos, Will Haynie, Jim Owens, and Gary Santos voted to cut the building height. Mayor Linda Page joined councilmen Elton Carrier, Paul Gawrych and Mark Smith in opposing the rule changes.
Page urged the council to leave a 55-foot height limit in place for one particular property, the former Channel 4 site on Ben Sawyer Boulevard, which was a point of debate as the height rules were considered at multiple public meetings.
The town previously quashed plans for a 246-apartment development there, called The Atlantic, resulting in a more than $6 million lawsuit, which is ongoing. An owner of the property later threatened to sue if height rule changes kill the latest plan for the property, a 76-townhome development.
“Height, I think you are viewing as a demon, somewhat arbitrarily,” said Trenholm Walker, a lawyer representing the property owners, the Pritchard and Morrison families. “By pushing down the height here you are going to cause the development to spread, you’re going to cause flat roofs and worse design.”
The town’s Planning Commission had recommended leaving a 55-foot height limit in place for that property, and Page unsuccessfully suggested the council treat the former Channel 4 site the same as two large shopping centers.
In two shopping centers where six-story, 75-foot buildings were previously allowed, the new three-story limit will apply along public streets, but on the interior of Moultrie Plaza and Sea Islands Shopping Center, four-story, 55-foot buildings will be allowed.
On Chuck Dawley Boulevard, the current 40-foot limit will continue, also with a three-story limit.
All of the building height limits will now be measured to the highest point on the building, which some fear might lead to lots of flat-roofed buildings. The planning commission had recommended in some cases measuring height to the eaves, which would not count the height of a peaked roof.