MOUNT PLEASANT — In South Carolina's fourth-largest city, where concerns about rapid growth and quality-of-life dominated the November election, hundreds of residents flocked to Town Hall Tuesday to get involved with the ongoing development of Mount Pleasant's vision for the next decade.
The development of a Comprehensive Plan is something towns and cities across the state regularly do, but in Mount Pleasant citizen engagement has been off the charts. Nearly 300 volunteered to spend a year working on the plan, and about 1,300 have filled out surveys and attended meetings.
"This is your best chance to have a direct say in what Mount Pleasant looks like in the future," the town's website says, in a section about the Comprehensive Plan titled "Why should I care?".
In the end, the plan is meant to be the town's guide for everything from development patterns to public services and environmental protection. Regulations and zoning rules, along with changes in town policy, could follow.
Among residents who got a look at where the planning is headed, some were impressed with the opportunity to give feedback.
"I think it's a great way to do it," said Mary-Ann Becker, who came with her husband, Peter. "We're curious about where the town is going, because we're sort of at a crossroads."
Once a sleepy town, often described as a fishing village, Mount Pleasant now has about 85,000 residents. It's been among the fastest-growing cities east of the Mississippi River, and now is one of the state's largest.
"We left Atlanta for a reason," said Karen Cooper, a town resident for 22 years. "It's just been growth, growth, growth."
She added her comments Tuesday to the boards set up in the lobby of Town Hall, which asked people if they supported or opposed different ideas the committee known as the Comprehensive Plan Forum has been working on.
"I don't know," said Cooper. "I guess the damage has already been done."
While stickers placed on the boards showed broad agreement on many goals, such as protecting the environment and providing adequate services, there were also divisions when it came to issues that previously divided Town Council. Plans to remake Coleman Boulevard, and the treatment of accessory dwellings — small second homes on the same property as a larger one — continue to split opinions among residents.
There was also division about whether the town should allow taller buildings near the Ravenel Bridge. The Planning Commission just unanimously rejected plans for a 140-foot-tall Medal of Honor Museum at Patriot's Point, and a Town Council decision could follow.
The last Comprehensive Plan endorsed plans to make Coleman Boulevard a more urban place, but a backlash developed that played a large role in the replacement of nearly all the town's elected officials, in the 2015 and 2017 elections.
The volunteers on the Plan Forum, working with consultant Greg Dale, will need to craft a vision that the town's residents and the Town Council will support. After all the work is done, the Town Council will vote late this year on whether to adopt the plan. The town is concurrently creating a long-range transportation plan, because one of the top issues residents have identified is the need to address traffic.
Peter Becker said the only thing the town seems to have agreed on was a new mayor, and "not having 100,000 people live here."
But with thousands of approved homes that haven't yet been built, 100,000 residents in the coming years is all but a certainty.
"There are some big questions this town is facing," Dale told a crowd that filled the Town Council chambers. "How do we preserve what we love, in the face of growth?"
The process of crafting a plan is in the hands of 41 volunteers. The Comprehensive Plan Forum, as the committee is known, was originally 34 members, selected from 275 who applied, but the Town Council seated after the November election added seven more.
The expansion of the committee was meant to address concerns raised by the Save Shem Creek group and some council members, who worried that the people originally selected did not share their concerns about development. Town Council will ultimately vote on the next Comprehensive Plan.
In September, Councilman Joe Bustos expressed concern that the original committee of 34 could spend a year developing a Comprehensive Plan "that would be rejected by the council, and we’ll go back to square one."
The original 34 were selected in August by the Planning Commission, from a list that did not include names or addresses, so Planning Commission members wouldn't know who they were picking. Demographic information was included so that different ages, genders, races and all areas of the town would be represented, and brief statements from the applicants were also included.
Town Council members named seven more people to the committee; Bruce Koedding, Karin Peace, Matt Jones, Randy Glenn, Lucy Gordon, Pam Ireland and Tracy Blanchard.
The open house on Tuesday was the second since the committee started work. The next is tentatively scheduled for September. Hearings before the Planning Commission and Town Council are expected to follow, in October and November.