Close urban ‘doughnut holes’

Snowden is a doughnut hole in Mount Pleasant.

Municipalities across the state regularly run into the same problem: Doughnut holes.

These are the small pockets of land surrounded by the city but not governed by it.

Cities have found that those little spots of land can make for big headaches. A bipartisan House bill provides a solution.

It’s something the Legislature has been needing to do for years.

The bill would authorize a city to annex a doughnut hole if the area is 25 acres or smaller and has been surrounded by the city for at least 25 years. If part of the doughnut hole is bounded by a state line, military installation, state or national park or forest, lake or river, it is nevertheless considered a doughnut hole.

The city would have to notify the public at least 30 days before any council vote to annex, but residents would not vote for or against the change.

The problems with leaving the holes as they are include: Residents can experience delayed response from emergency services. It is not always immediately clear whether those residents are served by the city, the county or another entity like a public service district.

Also, services like garbage collection can be redundant when a neighborhood is split between the municipality and the doughnut hole. It isn’t unusual to find the city and a PSD collecting garbage on the same street, and that wastes money.

In an area like DuWap (the nickname for the West Ashley area bound by the Savannah Highway, Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, Ashley Hall and Wappoo roads) redevelopment is complicated because both the city and the county have authority in the area.

And design-wise, something might work well for one entity’s purposes but not for another’s.

Moreover, property owners and residents in the doughnut holes get the benefit of adjacent municipal improvements — such as parks or infrastructure — funded by city taxpayers.

Mount Pleasant council members have tried for years to entice the residents of East Cooper doughnut holes to join the town. Indeed, the Municipal Association of South Carolina says there are few cities in South Carolina that don’t have an enclave of some kind.

The city of Charleston, for example, has at least 1,000 doughnut holes.

But residents often balk at the idea of annexation, fearing tax increases or loss of identity. Some see annexation as an intrusion on their property rights.

But annexation also can mean increased services, growing property values and a voice in the city that surrounds them.

Closing those holes would make for better service for their residents and less of a tax burden on city residents.

Sponsors of the bill include local House members Mary Tinkler, D-Charleston; Peter McCoy, R-James Island; William Crosby, R-North Charleston, and Joseph Daning, R-Goose Creek.

For its potential contribution to comprehensive, coherent long-range planning, the bill deserves strong legislative support, particularly among those legislators representing the rapidly developing coastal region.