MOUNT PLEASANT — One of South Carolina's largest and fastest-growing municipalities has had its fill of apartments and condominiums and is about to ban such developments for the next two years.
It would be the town's third moratorium targeting multi-family construction. The first was approved in 2017.
The latest moratorium comes despite the fact that Mount Pleasant already has a building permit rationing system that would only allow 10 more units to be built during the next three years — that's 10 apartments or condos, not 10 buildings.
“Essentially, it’s just another protective measure in place as a growth management tool," said Michele Reed, Mount Pleasant's planning director.
The town's permit limits started in 2019 and apply to all types of residential construction, but the quotas for multi-family buildings were particularly strict and the available building permits have been all but exhausted. Most went to developments approved before the first moratorium was in place.
“People all over the country are fleeing wherever they are living and coming here," said Councilman Jake Rambo, whose motion to approve the latest moratorium received initial approval Feb. 9 on an 8-1 vote.
Final approval is expected when Town Council next meets March 9. Rambo said the moratorium will give the town time to rewrite its zoning code following the recent adoption of a new comprehensive plan.
“If we could go back in time and re-do how Mount Pleasant is laid out, there are way too many residential lots in Mount Pleasant," Rambo said. "It’s way too residentially focused."
Councilwoman Kathy Landing cast the lone vote against the latest moratorium in February, questioning if it were necessary, but she plans to join the majority when it comes up for final approval.
Landing said she favors free-market approaches but that "building more apartments until we reach saturation so that prices begin to come down will not work here because Mount Pleasant is running out of locations" too quickly to keep up with demand.
"Since 'workforce housing' is an exception within the written moratorium, and I recognize that we really need this here in Mount Pleasant, I am planning to vote for the moratorium at the second reading next week," Landing said.
The population of the suburban town across the Cooper River from the Charleston peninsula has tripled since 1990, from 30,108 residents to about 90,000. Fifty years ago the town had a population of less than 7,000.
Most residents, or about two-thirds, live in single-family homes. And those homes are expensive by South Carolina standards. In January, the average home sold in the southern part of town cost $787,186, while those in the north end of town averaged $673,686, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.
Condominiums in the town were selling in January for, on average, $300,000 to $350,000.
The moratorium on multi-family homes would keep new condominiums and apartments from being built, with some exceptions. The exceptions are:
- Senior housing, restricted to those at least 55 years old.
- Rebuilding existing multi-family units.
- Buildings that already have vested rights with the town.
- Affordable housing, restricted by income.
The affordable housing exemption could allow for some new condominiums or apartments if they are restricted to buyers or tenants with incomes near the mid-point for the area, and affordable for people with such incomes. Single people earning up to $68,040, or a family of four earning as much as $97,200 could qualify for such housing — if it were built — but the prices would have to be low enough to result in monthly costs that consume no more than 30 percent of income.
For example, a townhouse development underway in the north end of town, Gregorie Ferry Towns, is a 36-unit affordable housing development where townhouses are listed for $269,900 to $285,000. To count as affordable housing, the condos are being sold to people meeting income limits and have 75-year deed restrictions to keep them affordable.
Townhouses, a type of single-family attached housing, aren't covered by the multi-family moratorium.
A condominium development could avoid both the moratorium and the limits on building permits if it counted as affordable or senior housing. Apartments could, too, but only by charging below-market rents and having income or age restrictions on tenants.