MOUNT PLEASANT — A sweeping plan to revitalize Johnnie Dodds Boulevard received conceptual approval Wednesday from the Planning Commission, "I think what you're planning is terrific," Commissioner Steve Brock said.

The four-lane boulevard, which handles 45,000 cars daily, is slated to become six lanes but simulate a traditional main street with parks and medians, sidewalk businesses and bike and pedestrian paths.

The catalyst for the changes is the town's $70 million share of the RoadWise half-cent sales tax money.

Town Council hired Thomas & Hutton Engineering to create the plan. It would allow higher-density building along 3.5 miles from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Interstate 526.

The current limit of 12 units per acre would increase to 30 near the bridge in a 250-acre Hospitality District and in a 210-acre Health & Wellness District near East Cooper Regional Medical Center.

Between those two districts, the maximum would be 20 units per acre. Land along the boulevard goes for $1 million an acre.

The commission recommended that developers be required to provide open space in exchange for the higher density.

The plan would permit 80-foot buildings near the Ravenel Bridge. "I sort of think of Myrtle Beach. I don't equate Mount Pleasant to Myrtle Beach. I have a fear about what we're going to wind up with," said Mary Carson, a residential real estate agent.

The recommended 80-foot height limit mirrors a decision by the council to allow taller buildings near the bridge. Carson questioned whether the improved traffic from two additional lanes for the boulevard would be offset by the higher building density along the thoroughfare.

The commission recommendation for approval goes to the Town Council Planning and Development Committee next month.

The recommendation included: no "big box" retailers larger than 40,000 square feet; encouraging CARTA participation; considering phasing out billboards if cost-effective; encouraging a local trolley system to run smaller routes that CARTA doesn't serve; addressing the feasibility of underground power lines; and ensuring the safety of pedestrians and cyclists crossing the boulevard.

Boulevard traffic is expected to increase to 70,000 vehicles daily by the year 2030. Town Council faces the challenge of balancing transportation needs with creation of an inviting boulevard redesign that will draw walkers, bikers and investors who will open sidewalk stores and restaurants.

When it was built in the 1960s, the boulevard was a way to get from one end of town to the other without having to go through the business district on Coleman Boulevard. As traffic increased, retailers set up shop on "the bypass." It became an architectural hodge-podge of buildings fronted by large parking lots.

"What we are trying to do is avoid the sprawl that we have now," said Commissioner Chris Cunniffe.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or