Few parts of South Carolina have grown as rapidly as Mount Pleasant in the past 10 years, and few other places face as urgent a need to update their comprehensive plans.
But the town’s update has been slow-walked to this point, probably because of the sort of growth concerns it’s designed to address. Since 2010, not only has Mount Pleasant’s population soared from 67,961 residents to more than 89,000, but its politics have changed, too. Anxiety about growth — and how it’s affecting traffic and the town’s character — have ushered in new elected officials more wary than ever about tall, dense new building.
Town Council received a draft of the new comprehensive plan last year and is set to discuss it at 12:15 p.m. Monday and again during its council retreat later this month. Another public hearing will be held before it’s approved.
There is much to like in the plan, such as its concept of “Mount Pleasant Way,” a dedicated bike and pedestrian route that would crisscross the town for recreational and transportation purposes. The plan also calls for more cooperation with settlement communities, historic African American enclaves that are surrounded by (but not inside) the town. And it recommends creating a new “cultural core” that would include more rural areas, such as Boone Hall Plantation, the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, and the Six Mile, Seven Mile and Hamlin settlement communities. This core not only sits in the town’s geographical center but also reflects much of its history and culture. For a town seeking to enhance its sense of community, it’s a great place to focus on.
Those ideas already have proven so popular that work on them has begun even as the plan remains in draft form. In fact, the draft may be pretty popular overall; the only apparent sticking point appears to be its language about redevelopment hubs, including areas along Johnnie Dodds, Coleman and Chuck Dawley boulevards that could be suitable for more dense, mixed-use development.
The plan’s summary acknowledges this tension. “Given the situation and pace of change, it’s no surprise that competing interests and community values highlight a sense of division and a disconnect when trying to reconcile the Mount Pleasant of the past with what the future might hold,” it says. “Some would argue that the battle has been lost. They point to carpool lines and traffic, new commercial properties, and big box stores, without small, local shops. They question new buildings which are out of character with certain parts of town. They lament the loss of locations where the shrimp boats and tomato farms used to be. They long to keep things the way they are. Or were. Yet others see opportunity and the next challenge of managing future change as a natural step in the town’s history.”
As the debate continues before Town Council, keep a few things in mind: First, the proposed area that would be subject to denser development represents only about 2 % of the entire town; second, any recommendations will need Town Council’s future approval before taking effect; and third, it’s unreasonable to expect any plan to resolve all tensions over future growth and redevelopment, one way or another.
But plans can bring forth new ideas and a vision of how a place can change for the better. Make no mistake: Mount Pleasant will keep changing. It’s just a question of how well the town gets ahead of it.