SUMMERVILLE — Town Council is ready to approve plans for 930 new houses, setting off another round of high-stakes arguments over growth in a declining economy.
Pine Trace would be built on 332 acres behind the S.C. Coastal Rehabilitation Center on Miles Jamison Road. Construction wouldn't start for two years, assuming the market picks up again by then, but the developer and town officials are hoping for the best and moving ahead.
It's not good news to residents who live near the proposed project. They've been turning out en masse to fight it. They argue that roads and schools are already overcrowded, and new houses will make it even harder to sell houses that become empty.
Council nixed the project in March. But Pine Trace was back earlier this month, in slightly different form. This time council gave it initial approval on a 4-3 vote. It's up for final approval at a meeting in January.
This time around, a majority of council said the town needs the money. Revenues have plummeted as construction has slowed, prompting the town to freeze hiring and pay raises until further notice.
The town issued 218 permits for new houses through November, down from 449 for the same period in 2007, according to the building department.
Pine Trace opponents vow to continue to fight it. Almost three dozen houses sit empty in The Bridges of Summerville, the neighborhood next to the Pine Trace tract, residents say.
"This will kill the chances of selling them," homeowners association board member Dot Kurkowski said at the last council meeting.
More empty houses will drive down house prices even more, and that will lower the town's tax revenues, she said.
The plan is a double-edged sword for the school district. Dorchester District 2 officials are concerned about where to put new students. But the developer is donating land for a school. School officials said they need a new school in the area and have not been able to find land anywhere else. A new school at Pine Trace would get 500 or 600 students out of mobile classrooms at Spann, Fort Dorchester and Oakbrook elementary schools.
The developer will also donate $500 from each house to build the school, which would add up to about $450,000 of the $30 million cost.
Also, the 930 houses include 200 townhomes for senior citizens, who typically don't have children in school.
The developer is the IDEA Real Estate Group, which has offices in Charleston and Farmington Hills, Mich.
Besides the impact on existing home sales and the schools, residents are also worried about putting more traffic on Beverly Drive, the traffic route from Pine Trace to Trolley Road.