Only in a town as politically tense as Mount Pleasant could a comprehensive plan become massively controversial before it’s even written.
But fears that the town Planning Commission and the citizen panel chosen to write the updated document would swing too far in favor of unbridled growth appear to have been wildly overblown based on the draft released last week.
Instead, the 387-page plan mostly calls for a sensible and practical effort to balance the things that Mount Pleasant residents love about their town with the realities of being part of a growing and changing metropolitan area.
It pinpoints areas of cultural and historical significance and calls for strengthened efforts to protect those places from character-altering development.
One notable change would drastically downgrade future development potential on and near Boone Hall Plantation, for example. Pressure to build large neighborhoods near historic districts in West Ashley and along the Cooper River shows just how important it is to think decades ahead.
Another provision calls for toning down a well-meaning but so far ineffective effort to make Coleman Boulevard a more walkable, mixed-use community that hasn’t panned out the way supporters hoped.
That street could and should still be a better place for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, but the comprehensive plan’s authors are right that it doesn’t necessarily take imposing, outsized blocks of luxury apartments to get there.
The plan suggests that tiny road projects to connect nearby streets could have massive impacts on traffic by pulling cars off of congested arteries and allowing pedestrians to access amenities that otherwise require lengthy detours.
It points out that attainable and workforce housing are keys to a functional transportation system, since more than half of all commutes using Mount Pleasant roads are to or from a different municipality.
It offers neighborhood-specific lists of goals and recommendations based on community feedback and gives a road map for generating the kind of public participation necessary to put plans into action.
And perhaps most notably, the comprehensive plan provides an eye-opening dive into Mount Pleasant’s financial future, which ought to catch the attention of other leaders in the Charleston area who might face similarly tough decisions in the near future.
Specifically, Mount Pleasant has relied on new development to keep taxes low while providing high-quality services. But as the town reaches its geographical limits and residents push back on growth, leaders will have to find other ways to raise revenue and refocus development on existing but underused assets.
Again, this is not a challenge unique to Mount Pleasant, and planning for a future not entirely dependent on geographical growth is important for most Charleston area municipalities.
Mount Pleasant Town Council will still have to discuss and approve the draft comprehensive plan before it can take effect. And this particular plan, like all others, is only as good as the policies that are eventually put in place to support it.
But the vision laid out in Mount Pleasant’s comprehensive plan update is a smart one, and one that acknowledges and draws on the many different perspectives of what the town’s future should look like. That’s a feature, not a flaw.