Most cities would jump at the chance to host a new national museum that would honor war heroes, boast a striking architectural design and draw in thousands of tourists — and their wallets — each year. Mount Pleasant is not most cities.
Last week, the Patriots Point Development Authority and the Medal of Honor Museum Foundation officially parted ways, freeing up the museum’s backers to more aggressively court other locations more receptive to their plans.
Hypothetically, the museum could still be built at Patriots Point, but that doesn’t seem likely. Mount Pleasant officials have been wringing their hands about the planned museum for months now, and there’s probably enough bad blood on all sides to make walking away the best choice.
That’s a disappointment, and not so much because Mount Pleasant desperately needs a Medal of Honor Museum — technically, the town already has one — but because it reflects the town’s general anti-growth attitude.
To be clear, Mount Pleasant officials generally said they wanted a museum to be built, but it had to be on their terms. Instead of accommodating a $100 million investment, the town balked at a building that didn’t fit its zoning code.
In a way, the museum was just more growth, and the town has had enough of that — to the extent that voters have kicked out pretty much every Town Council incumbent in the past two election cycles.
Really, that frustration is understandable. Mount Pleasant has grown in all the worst ways over the past few decades.
Development mostly stretches out instead of up — witness the strict height limit where the Medal of Honor Museum was proposed.
Suburban development patterns make cars necessary to go anywhere. And a lack of road connectivity funnels all of those car trips onto a handful of main thoroughfares.
The combination of high housing costs and scarce high-paying jobs forces residents to commute out and service and hospitality workers to commute in.
Despite the fact that Mount Pleasant still has a relatively small city-size population spread out over about 50 square miles — a fraction of the density of a bigger city, or the Charleston peninsula for that matter — it feels crowded. Each new house or business — or museum — just makes things worse.
That doesn’t have to be the case. Growth, even at the pace Mount Pleasant has experienced it, can be a good thing. It can mean new opportunities, new energy and a more prosperous place. But it’s difficult to benefit from growth when it’s micromanaged and hyper-regulated — and actively opposed.
Planning is good. Over-planning can give places a contrived, Disney World-esque feel. And overly rigid interpretation of planning can have unintended consequences.
The Medal of Honor Museum site, for example, is almost certainly going to have a tall building built on it eventually. It’s just likely to be significantly less noteworthy and compelling.
It might seem counterintuitive that loosening the reins on new development could actually make Mount Pleasant’s growth feel less oppressive and irritating. But it’s a real possibility.
Dropping parking requirements, for example, could make the town’s streets more people-friendly. Adding wiggle room to height limits could encourage more aesthetically pleasing architecture. Embracing infill development could slow the steady creep toward Awendaw and beyond.
There are a lot of reasons why the Medal of Honor Museum hasn’t worked out for Mount Pleasant. Some, like concerns about the town’s liability should the museum need repairs or not draw as many visitors as expected, are completely valid.
It’s just frustrating that Mount Pleasant seems more focused right now on what it doesn’t want rather than what it does — at least beyond inventing time-travel technology that would allow the town to revert to its former sleepy status.
Actually, the best way forward for the town might be to embrace that nearly extinct laid-back vibe and loosen up a little bit.
With a little open-mindedness and flexibility, Mount Pleasant could have gotten an icon. Instead, the town will probably end up with just another tallish building that nobody really hates but nobody loves either.
Ed Buckley is an editorial writer with The Post and Courier.