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City Council, April 23

Major development approved on Johns Island
Planning Commission vote ignored
Marc Knapp

The approval of the 462 acre Planned Unit Development (PUD) on Johns Island was not a surprise. But that it was approved so rapidly with no dissention was. The Planning Commission had voted unanimously to reject the proposed PUD. And in an effort to appease possible opposition on Council, the owners of the property voluntary offered to reduce the scale of the retail and commercial components. They didnít need to make the effort. Council approved the PUD in its original form with only one member opposed.

Nothing was said last night about the legal issues relating to the property and the likelihood of further legal action if the PUD were not approved. We suspect that Council was aware of what it faced and chose to approve the project. But why it would ignore the offer of the owners of the property to scale back part of the development is beyond us. It seems a needless whack rather than slap on the face of the Planning Commission and members of the public who opposed the project.

The present problems have their origin with the creation of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and the Comprehensive Plans of the City and the County. When the boundary was drawn, the 462 acre property on Plow Ground and River Roads was on the rural side of the boundary. At the time, it was zoned RR1 and according to Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Director Keane, could have been developed to provide 2300 dwelling units. In 2006, the owners moved to develop the property. This in turn prompted the City in 2007 to change the zoning to Conservation which reduced the possible density of development.

The owners of the properties, which included the then Judge and now County Council Member Rawl, took issue with the decision. Understandably, they felt it was wrong that a rezoning was forced on them which would reduce the value of the properties. So they sued for $20 million but were unsuccessful. However, they appealed the Courtís decision and according to the Post and Courier, the City and the owners were told to "go into mediation".

And from what was reported last night, the ďresolution" was a PUD that allowed a maximum of 462 dwelling units, 375,000 ft2 of warehouse space, 125,000 ft2 of office space and 50,000 ft2 or retail space. As some residents pointed out in the public hearing, thatís a lot of development. And presumably in recognition of the scale, the owners agreed to cut back the office space to 50,000 ft2 and retail space to 5000 ft2. But as we noted earlier, Council did not incorporate these reductions into the motion to approve the project.

We confess to sympathies for both the property owners and Johns Island residents. The owners are right when they claim the action of the City reduced the value of their property. In our view they had a right to look for some recompense. From the Cityís perspective, the creation of the UGB was a step in the direction of better control and management of urban growth. The UGB was drawn arbitrarily and given the limited development of the region, it made sense to place the subject properties on the rural side of the boundary. It was too bad that they had been zoned RR1. Viewers can refer to the City Council meeting, July 17, 2007 on this web site to see more detail of the issue.

Last night there were only a few residents of Johns Island that spoke to the issue. They noted the occurrence of two crashes of aircraft using the nearby airport - an intense development so close to the airport should not be contemplated they said. They also said that the density and scale of the development was too great for the area and for Johns Island, essentially the reasons that the Planning Commission rejected the PUD. Traffic also was likely to build to heavy and unsafe levels on River Road following the development. The speakers also accused the City of breaking its word regarding development of Johns Island.

Director Keane noted that the density of about one dwelling unit per acre was in accord with development on the rural side of the UGB. The UGB did not restrict development to the urban side only. It only delineated the intensity of development. He also said that 50% of the land would remain open space and there would be a 75 ft. buffer on River Road and a 50 ft. buffer on Plow Ground Road. Council member Waring noted that he was a member of the Planning Commission in 2006 when the original development was proposed. What was before Council last night was a much better plan than that presented to the Planning Commission in 2006, he said.

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