Council likely to OK new homes

SUMMERVILLE — Despite a shaky economy that's put the brakes on a once-booming building industry, Town Council is set to approve plans for 930 more new houses.

The IDEA Real Estate Group, which has offices in Farmington Hills, Mich., and Charleston, wants the town to annex 332 acres behind the S.C. Coastal Rehabilitation Center on Miles Jamison Road for a planned-unit development called Pine Trace.

Council's Planning Committee unanimously voted Wednesday that council approve the annexation and development agreement.

Mayor Berlin G. Myers has been backing the project and is expected to deliver the swing vote when it comes up for final approval Jan. 14.

Construction wouldn't start for two years, and the developers are banking on the economy picking up again by then. It's not an unreasonable expectation, Phillip Ford, executive vice president of the Charleston Trident Home Builders Association, said when contacted after the Planning Committee meeting.

"If they were starting to sell houses tomorrow, I would wonder," Ford said. "But I've not heard any economist who doesn't think we won't be out of this construction downturn by 2011."

Councilman Howard Bridgman said he will vote against the project when it comes before the full council because the town already has approved more houses than roads and schools can handle.

"We've already approved thousands of new houses, and here we are approving another thousand," Bridgman said. "I'll vote against it, but I don't think it will do any good."

Bridgman was on the Planning Committee until this month. Myers replaced him and Bob Jackson with Bob Flowers and Ricky Waring. Myers said it was not because Bridgman and Jackson opposed Pine Trace and Flowers and Waring supported it.

Councilmen who favor Pine Trace argue that 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 passed a 90-day moratorium on new residential developments in October 2007 but let it expire, and efforts to renew it failed. Pine Trace is the first major project since the moratorium.

Residents who live in neighborhoods near Pine Trace have argued that roads can't handle the extra traffic, and more new houses will make it harder to sell existing houses that become empty. One resident counted three dozen empty houses in The Bridges of Summerville, which is next to Pine Trace.

Dorchester District 2 officials are concerned about where to put new students. But the developer is donating land for a school. A new school at Pine Trace would get 500 or 600 students out of mobile classrooms at Spann, Fort Dorchester and Oakbrook elementary schools, officials estimate.

The developer also will donate $500 from each house toward a 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.