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Growth management - time for a fundamental change

G. Robert George, P.L.S.,P.E.
Councilmember, District - 12
The City of Charleston
915 Paul Revere Court

Recently, throughout the Tri-county area, there has been a flurry of interest in the aggregate number of new subdivisions and housing units that are currently in the planning and approval "pipeline". An accounting of City of Charleston and Charleston County projects west of the Ashley River went well beyond 10,000 planned units. Several more highly visible, controversial projects, including Poplar Grove, Watson Hill and The Ponds, will likely contribute as many units in Lower Dorchester County alone.

If Lowcountry counties and municipalities continue to approve these large, traditional residential developments for "Cars and Traffic", we'll get more "Cars and Traffic". Such growth management policies can not be the answer to "Urban Sprawl" if they increase traffic congestion, air pollution, demand for new schools, and send more urban storm water run-off into our already stressed tidal estuaries. We've got to stand back and look at the whole "quilt", not just a "patch" at a time, regardless of whose "bed" it's on.

Current growth management policies east of the Cooper, in West Ashley, lower Dorchester County and on James and Johns Islands all share the same common
denominator- the traditional land consuming approach totally dependant upon our already over-burdened roadway infrastructure. Adding poorly utilized transit buses to the existing congestion will only increase travel times for everyone; without priority lanes, they will simply creep along with the rest of us. Transit rider capture rates will never approach corresponding annual growth rates in private automobile traffic if we continue to build low-density, automobile dependant outer-ring subdivisions designed to accommodate current life-styles and driving habits.

It's time for a fundamental change in the growth paradigm utilized by local governments; until then, "Growth Management" will simply be another oxymoron. What we're doing now isn't working; it's only compounding all growth related problems for future generations to solve.

It's time to look seriously at controlling the "Supply Side" of the supply and demand equation of regional housing. Maybe Growth Management means just that - manage the supply of the available housing stock by instituting a series of "Supply Side" policies to limit annual housing starts and/or implement a series of regionally applicable housing impact fees to fund concurrent renovation, repairs and expansion of our transportation and public service infrastructure. Build it "As They Come" - with their money, not afterwards with ours.

Yes, decreased supply with high demand will cause home prices to increase, but this doesn't have to occur in all housing market sectors; targeting supply side policies to those sectors where the benefits will be maximized can limit adverse impacts on other vulnerable sectors such as work-force housing. It's highly unlikely that a "wealthy" family from New England looking for a home in the $700,000 plus market will compete with a local teacher who can only afford to pay $200,000. But isn't that the objective; God forbid, that family from New England may decide to settle in Savannah instead of Charleston. In the long run, it may be Savannah's loss and our gain.

Yes again, growth controls will likely slow the local economy and cool-down the hot real estate market, but again, isn't this the objective - the management of growth?

A client of mine often says "You can't fry ice". He's right; we can't have it both ways.

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