Town Council will meet tonight and take up the issue of capping residential building permits, so be sure to attend and have your voice heard! Here's our take on it:
Mount Pleasant’s red-hot growth will find its way onto the agenda of a Town Council meeting tonight as Councilman Gary Santos has requested a discussion of a residential building permit allocation program. A resurgent local economy combined with Mt. Pleasant’s appeal and a new developer-friendly zoning district instituted by Town Council have once again threatened to let growth get ahead of itself just as it did 15 years ago. If you have any interest in the growth debate, you should make a point to attend and hear the opinions of the individual Council members.
Lest we forget, this discussion tonight will complete a circle over a 15-year time period that saw the Town put in place a building permit cap, then spend $100,000 in 2009 to lure more people and developers to the Town for fear of a dying tax base, then revisit once again the issue of capping building permits five years later to slow raging growth. You see, when these are the steps we are taking, we’re not managing growth, we’re reacting to it.
While a building permit allocation program may well be an effective tool for the Town to adopt in order to actually manage the growth we’re seeing, we are hopeful that Town Council will take the opportunity to engage in a broader discussion on growth before the public that takes us to the meat of the matter. For example, take the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, which provides a framework for the Town’s growth and zoning plans in the coming decades. Reading through it you’ll see it’s quite clear that Town Council has based its zoning and planning decisions on the assumed need to accommodate about a 35 percent increase in the Town’s population just in the next 16 years, which means roughly 100,000 people living in Mt. Pleasant by the year 2030. And that’s on top of the 57 percent increase from 2000 to 2014! That’s more than a doubling of the population over 30 years…the same 30 years in which the population of the United States will have only increased by 28 percent.
The reality is that Mt. Pleasant can’t grow much more from a land area perspective as we’ve almost reached our limits formed by the rivers and marshes. Assuming then that all new population growth in Mt. Pleasant will have to occur within the existing framework of the Town, the bottom-line question that needs to be asked is what is THE NUMBER? In other words, what is the approximate population that the Town’s residents feel is optimum in terms of balancing growth while preserving the Town’s quality of life and character for its current residents? And WHEN do we want to get there?
Shouldn’t these be the questions Town Council should be asking its citizens? And if they did, do you think the Town’s residents would tell Council, “Yes, we need to jack up densities in the established parts of town so we can have room to squeeze in 27,000 more people in the next 16 years”? What do YOU think THE NUMBER should be?
The truth is that Mt. Pleasant is far from the first town in America to grapple with these issues. While the approaches taken across the country run the gamut, Mt. Pleasant’s recent actions clearly put it in the category of having chosen to attempt to put the infrastructure in place to accommodate high-growth projections while increasing the allowable residential densities in its zoning code. However, there are actually plenty of towns and cities that have taken the approach of managing growth with the goal of preserving their quality of life and character. Boulder, Colorado, is the most well-known case, but there are many others to look at as well. In 1970, after two decades of runaway growth and faced with population forecasts that predicted a doubling in the population from 70,000 to 140,000 by 1990, the people of Boulder voted to put in place a set of ordinances that would cap out growth close to 100,000 people and then institute a manageable growth rate thereafter. Is it a coincidence that Boulder is consistently ranked highly for its quality of life and livability?
If given the choice, which way do you think the people of Mt. Pleasant would lean? It’s time for Town Council to ask the question.