MONCKS CORNER — Berkeley County wants to put an end to tightly packed neighborhoods that offer little or no open space for their residents.
Next week, County Council will consider a nine-month moratorium on accepting or approving any plans for subdivisions that would "cluster" homes.
Clustering allows developers to squeeze smaller lots into their plans if they agree to designate "green space."
The problem is that the county's current ordinance allows developers to claim unusable wetlands and rights of way as green space, leaving little or no park space or recreational areas, Berkeley County Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Tyndall said.
Tyndall said the moratorium would buy the county enough time to adopt an ordinance that would require and encourage developers to create usable open space for their inhabitants. Plans already accepted or approved would not be affected.
"This just offers a little bit of protection right now so we don't get steamrolled," Tyndall said.
But one developer said instituting a moratorium during a housing market crisis will only put more pressure on builders trying to create affordable housing.
"It's just very difficult without clustering to produce affordable housing in Berkeley County," said Cy Goforth, director of land acquisitions and development for BFH Developers on Daniel Island.
Tyndall said the proposed ordinance would better define "green spaces" and change the way developers calculate the number of homes they could put on a property.
As it stands now, developers can reduce lot sizes from 14,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet if they set aside green space. They also can base the number of homes they build on the gross acreage of the property, even if a large portion is uninhabitable. The new ordinance would require the number of houses to be based largely on the property that is buildable.
"Density is good when done correctly, but it shouldn't be done at the sacrifice of open space," Tyndall said.
The proposal comes too late for residents in the Berkeley Run subdivision. The community of large houses on sprawling 5-, 10- and 15-acre tracts off of Cypress Gardens Road tried unsuccessfully to keep a tightly packed development from being built next door.
Charlotte Crosby, president of the Berkeley Run Homeowners Association, said residents are worried the new community will lower their property values and increase traffic.
"We were trying to keep it as rural as we could," Crosby said.
Under the current ordinance, BFH Developers is building 74 houses on 26 acres next to Berkeley Run. But eight of those 26 acres are unusable because they are wetlands, and that doesn't include the space that roads and rights of way will take up, Tyndall said.
The roughly 6,000-square-foot lots leave as little as 10 feet between houses. "They've used every inch they possibly could," Berkeley Run resident Francine Reed said.
Goforth said parks are great but that they shouldn't come at the expense of affordable housing for young families who don't want to rent.
"There's people who just want to have a house," he said.
He said changing the law could force developers to buy more land, causing sprawl and driving up costs that the homeowners will have to pay.
Tyndall said the proposal will give developers a bonus if they include open, usable space in their plans. The bonus would be an increase in the percentage of homes they could cluster together.
BFH recently applied for a second phase of the project, which likely would exempt it from the proposed moratorium. The second phase includes 122 homes on 43 acres, 10 of which are wetlands.
Crosby said she's disappointed the county didn't move faster to get a new ordinance passed.
County Council gave first reading to a new ordinance in October but the measure has never been back before council. Tyndall said he needs more time to complete the ordinance.
The bottom line is the current ordinance needs to be changed to reflect what is being done in surrounding communities, he said.
"It's archaic," Tyndall said of the current ordinance.