Last month, a sensible enough proposal to pause development in parts of Charleston before new stormwater rules took effect didn’t gain much traction at City Council. But Tuesday night, council will consider a better solution.
Rather than enacting a moratorium, council will consider adopting a temporary version of the new stormwater rules citywide until a finalized set of guidelines can be put into place, which could take until the fall.
Moratoriums aren’t an ideal way to solve development-related problems, since they don’t actually stop growth but rather delay it. That drives up costs and creates unintended consequences — sometimes without fixing the underlying issues.
It would be similarly problematic, however, to let development continue in Charleston given that stronger stormwater rules are in the pipeline, since it’s possible that some projects would get approved that otherwise wouldn’t under new guidelines.
And stronger guidelines are unquestionably needed.
High-profile mistakes have left entire neighborhoods vulnerable to devastating flooding, and there is legitimate concern that new development could exacerbate existing problems in the most flood-prone areas or leave future homeowners in harm’s way without stricter rules.
New data and better research also suggest that rising sea levels and stronger storms are likely to pose an increasingly severe threat to a larger portion of the city in the years to come. What was sufficient protection against flooding in the past is not likely to be enough in the future.
The guidelines up for council consideration are detailed and technical. They deal with conveyances and channels and culverts. But the broader implication is a city that is better prepared for its future.
A separate consideration before City Council would increase the minimum freeboard — the height of a home above the flood line — on new homes from 1 foot to 2 feet. Doing so would help make new development more resilient to flooding, and it could help lower flood insurance costs citywide.
The primary concern is that building homes higher off the ground would make them more expensive. Certainly, that’s worth taking into consideration when Charleston already struggles with housing affordability.
But repairing flood damage is also expensive.
Both efforts tie into Charleston’s comprehensive Flooding and Sea Level Rise Strategy, a new version of which will also go before council tonight. It lays out existing and future efforts to build flood prevention infrastructure, enhance natural resilience and take concrete steps both big and small to keep the city dry.
The strategies laid out in the newest plan are forward-thinking, politically and financially feasible and key to Charleston’s ongoing livability. That doesn’t mean they’ll be easy.
Turning a plan into reality has too often proved difficult for Charleston area governments. Flooding and sea level rise are among the most complex and large-scale challenges the city has faced.
But on Tuesday, council members have the opportunity to take meaningful steps toward a more sustainable, resilient Charleston. We encourage them to do so.