MOUNT PLEASANT — In 2010, Will Haynie moved back to a town much changed since his early years there, and his discontent spawned opinion columns, a successful run for Town Council and his campaign for mayor.
"I started realizing that everywhere I went in town, all people were talking about was how fast it's growing and changing," said Haynie, 56, who is challenging Mayor Linda Page in the Nov. 7 election.
"It's the only issue," Haynie said, citing polls conducted for his run.
Ending developers' 'free rein'
From his campaign office on U.S. Highway 17, he gazed at the heavy traffic plodding north on a recent Friday afternoon. An officer of Save Shem Creek, the fired up local activist group, had just finished meeting with him, and a few residents dropped by to collect yard signs supporting his campaign.
Mount Pleasant, the state's fourth-largest city, has seen at least a 24 percent population increase just since Haynie moved back. In 2015 it was the fastest-growing city east of the Mississippi River among those with at least 50,000 residents.
"People feel developers had free rein," Haynie said. "I think there are a lot of development mistakes that we were the guinea pig for."
The town, which extends from Charleston Harbor to Awendaw, is one of the state's most affluent, which is both a reason for and a consequence of the rapid growth. Quality public schools attract many families.
At candidate forums, Haynie mentions crowded conditions in the fifth-grade classroom of his wife, Jennie Moore Elementary teacher Suzette Haynie. He said affordable housing is a challenge in Mount Pleasant for teachers and many others, with the average single-family home price approaching $650,000 this year, south of S.C. Highway 41, and nearly $525,000 at the north end of town.
Haynie doesn't have a plan to address housing affordability, but he's sure that increasing the supply of apartments and houses is not the answer.
"What I would like to see is, we tell developers to incorporate affordable housing into their developments," he said. But South Carolina doesn't allow municipalities to do that, and Haynie's main focus is slowing or temporarily halting more development.
"We could do a permit allocation system," he said, referring to a process of annual limits on building permits that Mount Pleasant had in place in the years leading into the recession. Page, his opponent, believes a court would not approve another permit allocation system now that the town's annual growth rate is in the low single-digits.
One challenge is that residents feel overwhelmed when they see rapid development, but by then, buildings are under construction and more have been approved. Mount Pleasant passed apartment moratoriums in 2016 and 2017, but no apartment development has been proposed there since mid-2015. Meanwhile, the town has roughly 5,500 residential units approved but not built.
Another challenge is disagreement about solutions. Rock Hill and Lancaster County decided during growth-related moratoriums to encourage more urban-style apartment developments, which are thought to reduce sprawl. Mount Pleasant encouraged such development a decade ago but has since gone in the opposite direction.
During Mayor Billy Swails' administration, the town adopted a plan to revitalize Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards. That led to The Boulevard apartment complex and other development that prompted a backlash. The town was moving to rein in high-density development by 2015, and a pendulum swing in opinion had taken hold in a town that previously adopted the slogan "come on over."
"I don't think it's ever going to swing back," Haynie said. "It's about growth, too, not just density."
Knowing what makes people upset, and how to respond, has been an aspect of many jobs Haynie has held. He's had gigs as a congressional press secretary for Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor in North Carolina, a conservative columnist, a radio talk-show host, and he's now a marketing and public relations consultant.
Haynie's work has also included nonprofit leadership positions, including running the Lowcountry Open Land Trust and the S.C. Maritime Foundation, and an educational foundation in North Carolina. After earning a business degree from The Citadel in the 1980s, he spent his early career selling commercial real estate in Columbia.
Haynie won a seat on Town Council in 2015 as voters swept incumbents out of office and elected four candidates supported by leaders of the growth-averse Save Shem Creek group.
"I don't think I am where I am because of Save Shem Creek," Haynie said. Rather, he said his Moultrie News columns helped create the organization.
'Not all about growth'
Just 11 months into his four-year term, Haynie announced he would run for mayor.
Win or lose, Haynie will have one of nine votes on council for years to come. If he wins, he will eliminate a political opponent, increase his elected official pay from $15,000 to $42,000, and have a more prominent role. The mayor votes as a council member, while an appointed administrator runs the town's daily operations.
On Town Council, Haynie has joined Councilman Joe Bustos in taking the most hard-line positions on growth and development. For example, both believed quadrupling the town's development impact fees did not raise them enough, and shortly after being elected they sought to have appraisals performed on a number of business properties on the east side of Shem Creek that were not for sale, including a controversial parking garage and office building.
Haynie has supported a temporary freeze on all residential building permits, which failed by one vote last year. He's supported new height restrictions on buildings along Coleman and Ben Sawyer boulevards, and said the town could go further with height restrictions. He wants new restrictions on cutting trees, including pine trees.
Rules and restrictions, Haynie said, aren't necessarily a bad thing. He said the I'On development and Mount Pleasant's Old Village Historic District have lots of rules and restrictions, as well as some of the highest property values.
"Now, we need to transition into a sustainable situation that's not all about growth," Haynie said.