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Editorial: It's time for Mount Pleasant leaders to say what development they want

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Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant delayed debate on its new comprehensive plan because of COVID-19 but expects to resume meetings son. Above, Jeremy Cummings delivers lumber to a residential construction site in Carolina Park in 2018. File/Staff

It’s understandable that Mount Pleasant’s leaders would take their time to ensure that the town’s new comprehensive plan strikes just the right notes. After all, growth and development issues have driven the town’s politics for years.

Unfortunately, what already had been a very protracted planning process got even more strung out — delayed by more than four more months, to be precise — because of the pandemic, which has limited local officials’ ability to interact with the public during their meetings. That added delay is understandable, if also regrettable.

Fortunately, there are signs that things have settled to the point where Mount Pleasant Town Council plans to put the comprehensive plan back on its agenda soon, possibly as early as Thursday. A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 11.

We’ve noted before how important it is for the town to agree on an updated vision for its growth. Since 2010, its population has risen from 67,961 residents to more than 91,000, and its developed area has spread almost as far as it can go, given the relative proximity of Charleston and Awendaw.

The plan’s main flash point has been its language regarding those areas along Johnnie Dodds, Coleman and Chuck Dawley boulevards that have aging, relatively unremarkable buildings that appear ripe for new investment.

Previous town plans have suggested such redevelopment could be much more urban in character, but resulting projects such as The Boulevard apartments and Shem Creek’s new office and parking garage created a strong backlash to that approach.

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Agreeing on a vision for these areas is important, even though these particular parcels make up only about 2% of the town, and even though the plan provides only a framework, not specific regulations for building heights and the like.

“What we realize is these areas are going to get redeveloped. Instead of proscribing, ‘Let’s make this a hub,’ we’ll put allowances in there for shopping centers that are prime real estate for redevelopment,” Mayor Will Haynie said. He expects Town Council can rally behind an approach that identifies what sort of uses and features would be desirable in such redevelopments. It makes sense to encourage redevelopment that would bring more jobs closer to homes and help diversify the town’s tax base.

Mr. Haynie noted that Town Council also will meet soon to consider revisions to the town’s building heights map, and that discussion could trigger more heat than the comprehensive plan. “When you get down to individual parcels with the building heights map, that’s a lot harder than agreeing in general that Mount Pleasant is going to keep its suburban coastal feel and not have high-density urbanized areas,” he said.

But approving a comprehensive plan is still vital because it also advocates for good ideas such as a dedicated bike and pedestrian route that would crisscross the town for recreational and transportation purposes.

The current draft also calls for long-overdue cooperation with historic African American communities surrounded by, but not annexed into, the town. And it envisions a “cultural core” that would include Boone Hall Plantation, the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site and the Six Mile, Seven Mile and Hamlin settlement communities, places that strongly reflect the town’s diverse history.

As the plan itself notes, some believe the town already has seen too much change, with ever more traffic and big-box stores and ever fewer shrimp boats and cultivated fields. Updating Mount Pleasant’s comprehensive plan won’t necessarily change those views, but it’s still crucial that town officials state in the clearest possible terms not only what they don’t want to see, but what they do.

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