Pleas. deals with growth concerns - Oct. 10, 2005
Town at crossroads over infrastructure needs, expansion
BY JESSICA VANEGEREN
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Lifelong residents of Mount Pleasant remember their hometown as a quaint
little fishing village, a community centered around the Old Village and the
As the residents grew up, so did their town.
A large building boom hit the town in the early 1990s, turning large
swaths of property farther north along U.S. Highway 17 into large
Newcomers flocked to the town because of its good schools, its low crime
rate and its lingering image as a small town just across the Cooper River
Town officials and residents now find themselves grappling with plenty of
big-city propositions and problems. They are at a crossroad, juggling how to
deal with existing infrastructure needs while eyeing their expansion
"Obviously growth is a two-edged sword," said Brent Havens, the owner of
Havens Picture Framing on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard. "We're happy to see it
grow. Growth brings success to businesses. But at the same time, we all
enjoy the idea of Mount Pleasant as a sleepy fishing village. It is up to
all of us to be proactive in deciding how we want our community to grow."
Decisions will need to be made soon, as the town's growth is showing no
signs of slowing down.
Its current population is roughly 60,000. By 2015, the town's population
is expected to reach 85,000, becoming the state's fourth largest
Housing the masses has driven up property prices and pushed the town's
borders farther north along U.S. 17 and S.C. Highway 41. Mount Pleasant's
borders now extend up to Carolina Park, a roughly 1,600-acre mixed-use
development just outside the Francis Marion National Forest and Awendaw.
Town officials in recent years have taken a unique, proactive approach to
dealing with one of growth's side effects, congested roads. Officials have
generated roughly $30 million to widen and realign existing roads and build
Five years ago, a permit allocation program also was enacted, essentially
setting a cap on the number of new building permits issued annually. The
program is to last through 2010 but is reviewed annually. It will be
reviewed again in December.
At the same time, East Cooper Regional Medical Center and Roper St.
Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital have announced plans to build new facilities
in the town.
The town, in an attempt to calm some of the growing traffic problems
along U.S. 17 north, recently annexed East Cooper Airport. The move will
allow town officials to build an access road between Carolina Park and Park
West to connect the two large subdivisions with nearby Wando High School,
keeping traffic bound for the school off the highway.
And most recently, a request has been made by Mount Pleasant Waterworks
to extend the town's water and sewer service up U.S. 17 toward the Francis
Marion forest. The request would open the northern borders of the town to
hosts of new development.
Then there's Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, the town's main traffic artery and
one of three north-south corridors that run through the town. Most residents
link the town's future to how half-cent sales tax money will be spent to
improve traffic flow on Johnnie Dodds between Interstate 526 and the base of
the new Ravenel Bridge.
The fear among some is that elevated interchanges, or flyovers, would
hurt business owners by moving traffic too quickly down Johnnie Dodds. But
others find problems with roundabouts, saying they won't move traffic fast
Two competing traffic-mobility studies are under way, one town-funded,
the other being paid for by the East Cooper Planning Council, whose mission
is to advocate and support long-term solutions to growth-related issues.
"It's not as much about my business as it is about the character of the
East Cooper area," Havens said. "We are after a better way of life, and
there's no doubt in my mind that a better way of life is to create a
boulevard. We are just following traffic's lead."
The East Cooper Planning Council also would like the new-and-improved
Johnnie Dodds to promote mixed-use development.
"It is a huge decision," said Tony Woody, the council's chairman of the
Main Streets Initiative Committee. "It is going to set the stage for how the
town grows for the next 50 years. Traffic is greater and there is really no
way to stop building more and wider roads unless we change our development
patterns. We're not saying it's bad to live in a single-family home north of
526. But right now, that's your only option."
Woody points to a renewed effort by town officials to encourage mixed-use
and infill development along Coleman Boulevard as a trend that needs to be
emulated on Johnnie Dodds.
Mayor Harry Hallman said a compromise will likely be reached between the
competing views. He said flyovers would work best at the base of the bridge
and at Bowman Road. He added that smaller streets that intersect with
Johnnie Dodds, such as Houston Northcutt, would likely benefit more from the
installation of a roundabout.
"I want our highways to look good, too," Hallman said. "But the ultimate
fact that everybody's got to realize is that we have to gear up for Johnnie
Dodds to handle 62,000 cars a day, and 30 percent of that traffic does not
originate and is not destined for Mount Pleasant. They are just passing
In the end, a vote by town council will decide the matter.
As debate continues to wage over how to handle traffic on the southern
end of town, the activities on the northern end of town will attract growing
attention in coming months as efforts to expand the town's sewer service
move through a lengthy review process.
Town Councilman Paul Gawrych said the town has an agreement with Mount
Pleasant Waterworks that basically states that property owners outside the
town's limits will not be granted water and sewer unless they annex into the
town. Gawrych said the town is not holding water and sewer over property
owners' heads. Rather, the arrangement fosters a give-and-take relationship.
By giving properties water and sewer, those property owners, in turn, have
to comply with the town's, not Charleston County's, comprehensive land-use
"We are going to have a Rivers Avenue on 17 North if we don't do
something about it," Gawrych said. "There has to be some give-and-take, and
what we give is water and sewer."
He added that many pockets, too many pockets, of Charleston County land
sit along U.S. 17.
"If we could, we'd annex all those properties and bring them into Mount
Pleasant," Gawrych said.
Hallman maintains that the town will annex only when proposed
developments would have an adverse affect on the town if they remained in
Charleston County. For example, after a lengthy battle over whether to annex
Carolina Park, the town annexed the development because developers would
have been given the ability to build more units per acre if the project
remained in the county.
Despite the potential to expand to the north, Hallman maintains that 15
years from now the town will look the same. The quality of life will be the
same and, although more cars will traverse the roads, improvements now in
the works should keep traffic moving efficiently, he said.
"We can't lose the quaintness of Mount Pleasant and our quality of life,"
Hallman said. "If we lose that, we'll have lost the big battle."