Calm the Shem Creek waters

An aerial view of Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. (Leroy Burnell/File)

Shem Creek understandably stirs up some strong emotions for a lot of Mount Pleasant residents. It’s a place for people to connect with nature, a monument to Lowcountry shrimping past and present, and a spot to grab a meal or a drink and watch the sunset.

But the tranquil setting belies a heated argument over the future of one of the town’s most popular destinations.

To listen to some of the recent rhetoric from members of Mount Pleasant Town Council, one might think the Shem Creek area is just one relatively innocuous building away from crumbling into a dystopian wasteland.

That, of course, is extremely unlikely. But some of those council members seem poised to do anything to keep that development — an office building with parking on the first floors — from being built.

Council members have denied it, but signs point to the possibility that the town would actually consider using eminent domain to stop the project, even though construction has already started. Town staff was told earlier this month to look at the costs of appraising properties around Shem Creek, including long-standing businesses.

Eminent domain should never be used on a whim. Nor should it be used simply to halt a permitted, approved and vested development.

Government should only use eminent domain when an explicit and obvious public need exists.

Simply put, there is no such need on Shem Creek at this time.

Not only would such a heavy-handed move deal a truly disastrous blow to Mount Pleasant’s reputation as a good place to do business, it could further embroil the town in legal problems.

Town Council should consider other options to preserve Shem Creek’s charm and make it more accessible to as many people as possible — both locals and visitors.

That includes quality public access like the park that opened in 2011 and is currently being expanded.

Mount Pleasant voters unquestionably have intense feelings about some planned changes at or nearby the creek, particularly the office building under construction.

All four council members elected in November had been endorsed by Save Shem Creek, an organization set up to fight what they see as out-of-control development in Mount Pleasant’s historic center.

In that regard, the new council members apparently believe they are simply doing what they were elected to do.

Eminent domain, however, should not be one of the options.

Nor should the debate be allowed to further devolve into petty and immature bickering. A Monday news conference at Shem Creek held by council members nearly degenerated into physical violence, according to a story in Tuesday’s Post and Courier.

That is absolutely unacceptable behavior for public officials.

It’s a good thing that so many people in Mount Pleasant care deeply about this a priceless piece of the community.

But Shem Creek will only be enhanced by working together, not tearing the town apart.