Johns Island is now the fastest growing area of the city of Charleston, but residents are still living with the infrastructure of a small, rural island.
To speed up public improvements such as new roads and drainage systems, the city is considering creating a municipal impact district, or MID, on the part of the island seeing most of the new development. Developers with construction planned within the district would have to pay the city a fee to help fund infrastructure.
City Planner Jacob Lindsey said the idea is still being workshopped by the legal and finance departments, so details such as the boundaries of the district and the fees developers might have to pay aren't in place yet.
The district would likely apply to the areas inside the Johns Island Urban Growth Boundary, generally below Main Road.
The concept probably wouldn't materialize as a formal proposal until the end of the year, Lindsey said.
The financing model would be a first for Charleston.
Typically, the city has established tax increment financing (TIF) districts, where new property tax revenue generated by development in the specified area is used to finance public amenities in that same area. They've helped fund the revitalization efforts on King Street, and another was created in 2016 for the same purpose along Sam Rittenberg Boulevard in West Ashley.
Patrick Arnold, executive director of the Charleston Home Builders Association, said he hadn't heard about the city's latest proposal but that the group isn't typically supportive of impact fees.
"It passes the cost along to home buyers, and that affects housing affordability," he said.
A TIF district would be more acceptable, he said, because it wouldn't add to the cost of construction.
However, Lindsey said that's not the best option for Johns Island because a TIF can take years to generate funds whereas the municipal impact district would be a more immediate source of revenue.
And the community's needs are pressing. Census estimates show Johns Island's population has nearly doubled in the past eight years, and the growth doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. More than 4,000 residential units are planned in various new developments.
The Johns Island Community Plan approved by City Council in 2007 was supposed to prep the island for growth. It called for a new grid system of secondary streets so local residents could move between neighborhoods without having to clog up the island’s primary roads, most of which still have only two lanes. It also envisioned new parks, sidewalks and a new fire station.
But most of the concepts in the plan never materialized.
Over the years, subdivisions have multiplied without a coordinated plan to handle stormwater runoff, often resulting in overloaded drainage systems. Some road improvements have been made, but not enough to keep the main roads from backing up during rush hour.
The city has been trying recently to address the issues. Mayor John Tecklenburg appointed a Johns Island Growth Management Committee with representatives of governments with jurisdiction on the island as well as local residential groups. Its main goal is to coordinate and plan improvements.
The mayor floated temporarily halting developments on Johns Island earlier this year, but it wasn't supported by City Council because it wouldn't have delayed construction of projects that were already permitted.