'I need to understand it better,' one commission member says

Charleston's plan to control development on Johns Island has been discussed at public workshops and in city presentations and has been posted on the city's Web site for the past month, but on Wednesday the Planning Commission decided it wasn't ready to recommend it to City Council.

City Council was expected to consider the plan for adoption in October, but that will have to wait.

The Planning Commission, operating without Chairman Francis McCann, also declined to vote on a 430-unit development proposed for Johns Island, and a city ordinance amendment to formally adopt the "urban growth boundary" that Charleston has long recognized to mark the end of suburban development.

The Johns Island Plan is Charleston's attempt to guide the development of the fast-growing sea island. It covers the part of Johns Island that is within the urban growth boundary, an area nearly twice the size of the Charleston peninsula that extends up Maybank Highway to Main Road.

"It's a lot to swallow and so much is at stake," said Planning Commission member Barbara Ellison, who voted with the four other commissioners present Wednesday to postpone a vote on the plan. "I think it would be beneficial to delay it."

Commission member William Gordon Geer said he was inclined to support the Johns Island Plan, but that he wasn't sure he'd be able to explain the plan to someone else.

"I need to understand it better," he said.

The plan envisions the growth area of Johns Island as a network of interconnected neighborhoods, with three town-like commercial areas on Maybank Highway that would be within walking or biking distance of many residents.

The 430-home development that the Planning Commission declined to vote on Wednesday, called Fenwick Hills II, had a number of the characteristics favored by the city in the plan for Johns Island.

The development on Southwick Road, north of Maybank Highway, would have a mix of housing types, a commercial area, public green spaces and bike trails, and would be connected to existing neighborhoods with more connections planning in the coming years.

The commission deferred the vote because members said they felt that neighbors of the development had not had time to learn about it.

The Johns Island Plan acknowledges that development is coming and treats it as mostly unavoidable, but aims to prevent traditional suburban sprawl patterns that clog streets with traffic because even the smallest errand requires a car trip on a major road.

Among the key concepts of the plan, the city would develop a new system of secondary roads by insisting that new developments be connected to one another and to existing streets. Planners think more small roads would eliminate the need for big road-widening projects and massive intersections.

The plan also sets goals for affordable housing, ideally at least 30 percent of new construction, and calls for the use of environmentally sustainable building practices. New neighborhoods would feature building styles similar to those now existing on Johns Island and would have to have bicycle and pedestrian paths and small public park areas.

Some builders have protested that the design standards in the Johns Island Plan could conflict with the goal of building homes that are affordable, because metal roofs and "green" building materials can be costly.