MOUNT PLEASANT — Responding to unceasing complaints about traffic and other impacts of rapid growth and development, South Carolina's fourth-largest city is poised to approve annual limits on home construction permits.
“We did this in the early 2000s and it worked very well, once everyone got used to it," said Councilman Joe Bustos, a regular advocate of restrictions on growth.
Permit allocation, as the practice is known, was used in Mount Pleasant from 2001 until 2008, ending after the Great Recession arrived. When those limits began, the town had just experienced seeing the number of homes and apartments increase by nearly 14 percent in a single year.
Permit limits were dropped during the recession as development slowed to a trickle, but when the economy recovered, rapid growth resumed with no limits, prompting calls to apply the brakes.
Now, Mount Pleasant is crafting the details of a permit-limit plan aimed at reducing residential growth to an average of 2 percent for the coming five years.
That's a slower rate of growth than the town has seen in two decades, except during the recession-influenced years of 2008 through 2011.
In hard numbers, such a limit could mean that only 600 permits for new single-family homes could be issued in a year, along with 100 permits for multi-family units. The town expects to see an additional 219 homes built yearly due to long-term development contracts Mount Pleasant previously agreed upon with the developers of Carolina Park and Liberty Hill Farm.
Add it all up, and just over 900 homes and apartments could be permitted yearly. That would be the smallest number of homes the town has seen built yearly since 2012. It's a reduction of nearly 300 homes per year, compared with the average number built during the past five years.
Most of the growth Mount Pleasant expects between now and 2040 has already been approved, but developments would still need building permits for construction, and that's what a permit allocation system would limit.
Meanwhile, the town's 2017 huge increase in impact fees — fees were roughly tripled, or quadrupled, depending on multiple factors — may be slowing growth as well.
In the most recent 12 months, the second half of 2017 and first half of 2018, plans for just 95 single-family homes were approved in Mount Pleasant. During the comparable period a year earlier, plans for 904 homes were approved by the town.
Councilman Jim Owens said Tuesday he'd like to know more about how the higher fees have impacted growth, and Councilwoman Kathy Landing wondered how far the town should go in interfering with the free market.
Mayor Will Haynie said Wednesday he wouldn't presume to speak for the council and predict the outcome of a vote on permit limits that's likely to come in September. But he noted the council voted unanimously to have the town's staff complete a detailed permit allocation plan along the lines of what Planning and Development Director Jeff Ulma presented at Tuesday's meeting.
“When you get a unanimous vote by council on something like this, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s going to pass," he said.
Haynie, who was elected mayor in November after serving on the council, called for permit allocation while campaigning. A majority of Town Council members — most of whom campaigned on a platform of protecting the town's quality of life — were also elected during the past two elections.