MOUNT PLEASANT — A citizen committee plans to work for a year or more on a Comprehensive Plan meant to guide this fast-growing town, but the outcome may have already been tainted.
Several of the Town Council members most inclined to restrict growth and development in Mount Pleasant said members of the recently created committee could end up wasting their time.
Councilman Joe Bustos said the committee membership ended up skewed, perhaps unintentionally, with too few people who want to restrict development. He suggested the committee would not produce the "desired result."
Without changes — allowing Town Council members to personally select additional appointees — then “a year from now, when they complete their work, they’ll offer something that would be rejected by the council, and we’ll go back to square one," Bustos said.
“I agree with what was just said," said Councilman Will Haynie, who is running for mayor.
The Comprehensive Plan is meant to guide the town for a decade. There were 275 applicants to serve on the committee crafting the plan, and their names were kept secret from the Planning Commission, which chose the final 34 based on demographic information.
Later, officers of the Save Shem Creek group and some council members complained about the outcome.
Councilman Bob Brimmer, a former Planning Commission member, said he warned months ago that if Town Council got involved, the process would become politicized. He said public distrust would surely follow.
“I think it’s a slippery slope that we’re at here," said Brimmer, who did not believe the committee process was somehow skewed.
Councilmen Jim Owens and Bustos proposed allowing each of the nine Town Council members to appoint another member to the committee, chosen from the remaining applicants.
The council voted that proposal down, 5-4. In the majority were Brimmer, Mayor Linda Page, and Councilmen Elton Carrier, Gary Santos and Mark Smith.
Next, Owens and Santos proposed removing four Comprehensive Plan committee members, who live outside the town limits, and replacing them with volunteers who do live in Mount Pleasant.
“I have an issue with folks who are not in the town," Santos said.
This being an election year — four seats on Town Council and the mayor's office will be on the ballot — four candidates for council also weighed in on the issue from the audience.
"This has got to be a joke," said candidate Rodley Millet. “I am disappointed that some of our council members don’t appreciate the importance of inclusion, as opposed to exclusion."
Some of the unincorporated areas east of the Cooper River, in many cases surrounded by the town, are historic post-Civil War black communities. And while they are not in the town, the unincorporated areas are included in the town's planning area, and can become part of the town through annexation.
Council Candidate G.M. Whitley said having non-residents on the committee seems "problematic."
“Should we put Sullivan’s Island residents on the commission because they are impacted by what we do?" she asked.
The proposal to replace the non-residents on the committee with applicants who are residents was rejected by a 6-3 vote. In the majority were Brimmer, Carrier, Paul Gawrych, Haynie, Smith and Page.
Haynie said it was a mistake to start the Comprehensive Plan process during an election year.
“None of us saw it becoming what is apparently swirling around us now," he said.