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County Planning Commission, September 17

Work on new Comprehensive Plan for County begins
Final plan could take more than a year to complete
Warwick Jones

State law obliges counties to prepare a full update of their Comprehensive Plans every 10 years. The first Comprehensive Plan (CP) prepared by Charleston County was completed in 1999. A new plan is required by 2009. To meet State requirements, the County earlier this year retained consultants, at a cost of $250,000 to prepare the new plan. Mr. Dan Pennick, head of Planning for the County said it would take 12 to 14 months to complete and should be ready before the 2009 deadline.

Introduction to consultants
Yesterday, the Planning Commission (PC) and the public were introduced to the consultants. The consultants in turn spoke broadly of their plans and methods. They also took questions from the PC members and the public.

Mr. Pennick introduced the consultants and spoke of the importance of the Comprehensive Plan. It was a necessary tool in guiding the County in formulating its policies in relation to zoning and other regulations. “Guiding the future for a lasting LowCountry” was the title of yesterday’s presentation and he noted that the sentence captured the essence of the Plan’s aim. The consultants are Mc Bride, Dale,Clarion: ACP Visionary & Planning Ltd: and Miley Gallo and Associates.

The elements of the Plan
State law proscribed that the original Comprehensive Plan address the elements of population, economic development, natural resources, cultural resources, community facilities, housing, and land use. For the 2009 Plan, the State has added “transportation” and “priority investment”. The County has added “coordination with other municipalities”.

There were a lot of words spoken at the meeting but not much that is worth reporting. And that is not meant to be a criticism. The consultants have yet to begin their task and can hardly have formed conclusions. They spoke of the need to identify natural and cultural resources and preservation targets, make an inventory of vacant land and calculate the impact of a total but theoretical build-out. They also had to project population and economic growth and assess the impact of current zoning. The final questions which they hoped to address were what will happen and what should happen in future.

Public input vital
One feature that was frequently emphasized was the need for public input. The consultants planned a number of public meetings where citizens could express their hopes and fears. Public input would play a large role in directing the shape of the Plan, they said

PC members questioned the consultants about the problem of accommodating both economic growth and the rural aspects of the County. The consultants acknowledge the problem. One member suggested that defining “rural” was difficult and some areas in Johns Island which the County considered “rural” were hardly that at all. The Commission Chairman also spoke of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and the attendant problems. We presume he was insinuating that it needed to be moved to allow expansion of the urban side. Another member spoke of the importance of including other agencies in the County such as CHATS which could have useful input.

Members of the public expressed views such as the need to address redevelopment of some urban areas, the need for more “affordable housing”, access to transportation, and the need for interconnectivity between new developments. Representatives of the Councils of Meggett and North Charleston supported the updating of the Comprehensive Plan and hoped to be included in discussion.

Not necessarily a choice between economic development and sprawl
This member of the public expressed hope that the UGB would not be tinkered with as it was integral to the County’s Greenbelt program. I also suggested that it was not necessarily a choice between “economic development and sprawl”. I referred to the public meeting/workshop arranged by the State Governor on the “New Urbanism”. This concept is being applied now by the City of Charleston to the area under its jurisdiction on Johns Island. It is very different to the “suburban” form of land development prevalent over the last 50 years or so. It concentrates on the formation of town centers with radiating circles of dwelling densities. The center is occupied by commercial and retail facilities, and high density housing. Housing units decline in density away from the center. It essentially is the practice that existed in pre-automobile days. It does not create sprawl in the manner of suburban subdivisions with the usual large lot sizes. It conserves land, leads to more attractive communities and less reliance on automobiles, and simplifies and reduces the costs of effective public transport.

Remember Brickman Farms? A legacy of the County’s folly
We have to note one of the items on yesterday’s PC agenda. It related to the Brickman Farms subdivision. This subdivision was approved by Council in 2004 and the developer yeserday sought a modification to its Planned Development. Because staff had insufficient time to consider the proposed changes, the hearing was deferred.

The hearing was a reminder of what we consider an inexcusable action by Council in 2004. It moved the UGB to expand the urban side. Shortly after, it returned the boundary to its original position. But it was sufficient time for the developer of the project to apply for the subdivision.

An ill-considered move by Council
Much was written on the change of the position of the UGB at the time it occurred. The then members of Council, at least those who voted for the original change of the UGB, should be embarrassed. The move was clearly ill-considered and aroused considerable public indignation. It also raised the question as to why it was moved.

Many citizens were at the hearing yesterday to speak but only one was allowed to speak against the proposed amendments. He stated that the nearby residents had not been consulted about the changes and they were very much opposed to some of them, in particular the proposed entrance to the subdivision. The PC instructed the parties to get together and attempt to work something out, and to do so before the next PC meeting

The principals of the development company are Charles Huff and Joe Margarit. The company proposes to construct about 540 dwelling units on 309 acres within the next 5 years. The land is situated in West Ashley on Pickling Hill Road.

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