Johns Island Moratorium

Construction workers build houses in Woodbury Park off Brownswood Road on Johns Island Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Brad Nettles/Staff

Johns Island residents flooded into the Charleston City Council meeting Tuesday to argue for and against a proposed 6-month pause on new home-building there.

Many came armed with maps, posters and fliers that they passed out to the standing-room-only crowd. While they shared many of same concerns, they didn't agree that a six-month pause on development was necessary to address the drainage and traffic issues in the fastest-growing part of the city.

Even those who supported the moratorium were split on how the city should use the time.

Council voted unanimously to defer any decision for at least two weeks.

Councilman Marvin Wagener, who represents Johns Island, supported the measure last week but cast doubt on it Tuesday, asking, "What is it that we are really trying to accomplish here?"

The moratorium was intended give the city time to identify funding for public infrastructure projects such as Charleston County's "pitchfork" plan to widen key intersections on Maybank Highway. Those improvements were envisioned more than a decade ago in the Johns Island Community Plan, but they have moved at a slow pace, just like traffic on and off the island.

Meanwhile, development has raced ahead, with the city issuing about 400 permits for new homes each year, on top of about 150 issued by the county.

Even so, Wagener said the moratorium wouldn't really make a difference because about 17 housing projects had already received final plat approval and the city still would be willing to issue about 800 new permits for them during the pause.

While Mayor John Tecklenburg defended the proposal, he said the city can make progress on Johns Island without a moratorium. He said he would appoint a commission to revisit the community plan, adjust it and work to find funds to act on it. 

The group would include residents as well as leaders from the state, city and county, as well as Kiawah and Seabrook islands. 

"The plan is to focus on funding," he said. "Where are we going to get the money to build these connections that we know we need?"

Some residents said a bigger problem facing Johns Island is climate change, and they said the city should focus on improving the drainage standards that developers must follow. 

"That’s incredibly disappointing because it misses the whole point," Rich Thomas said. "He didn’t talk about flooding or resilience or clear-cutting forests." 

Thomas was among a group of residents and representatives from the Coastal Conservation League who took a lukewarm stance on the moratorium. In a letter, they urged council to implement a detailed strategy to fix Johns Island's problems if the measure passed.

Developers argued that halting their projects would only serve to drive up their costs and ultimately housing prices, exacerbating the city's affordable housing crisis

George Reavis, whose local firm Reavis-Comer Development is building 33 homes on the island, said his project  already complies with the community plan's drainage and transportation goals. He said the moratorium would unfairly punish developments that want to be part of the solution.

"Our property is actually a crucial part of the southern pitchfork," he said. "Don't punish us for working closely with the city to address their problems."

The city's wariness about a moratorium on Johns Island contrasts with its relative willingness last year to place moratoriums around Church Creek in West Ashley and on James Island to buy time to review development rules there.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

Abigail Darlington is a local government reporter focusing primarily on the City of Charleston. She previously covered local arts & entertainment, technology, innovation, tourism and retail for the Post and Courier.