Charleston County is home to the revered historic city of Charleston, yet some of the fastest growing areas of the county are smaller communities gracing the edges of the city’s core. History and beauty abound, creating an environment that forces residents and visitors alike, to inhale the magnificence of the Lowcountry.
It’s easy to recognize that balancing economic growth, and attracting new employers is a challenge to those focused on protecting the quality of life and natural assets prevalent in the Lowcountry.
Economic outlook for Charleston County projects continued growth
Charleston County is one of three counties comprising the Lowcounty. With a population increase of 11.2% over five years (U.S. Census) to a reported population of 389,000 and the issuance of 3,936 building permits in 2015, it’s clear that the area is experiencing strong economic growth.
The 2016 Regional Economic Scorecard presented by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and Charleston Regional Development Alliance report the county’s population growth at a rate of an estimated 48 individuals per day. The report states that highly skilled young professionals account for much of the growth. Employers continue to be attracted to Charleston County due to those skilled employees and a pro-business government, plus access to a deep-water port.
How is Charleston Balancing Growth and Preservation?
Charleston County’s Comprehensive Plan, initially developed in 1999 and last revised in January 2015, establishes guidelines for development with a focus on land use, natural resources, cultural resources, housing, transportation and more.
Official growth corridor boundary lines delineating urban/suburban edges were established in the initial plan and are implemented by the Charleston County Planning Department. The County’s planning team, who provides professional planning and zoning expertise to those in unincorporated areas of the county, is faced with decisions regarding annexation into the urban growth boundaries of the city.
Urban/suburban areas within Charleston County’s Urban Growth Boundary are host to medium to high intensity development of residential neighborhoods, business and industrial growth, and road frontage development.
Located outside of the urban growth boundary, the county’s rural areas are home to agricultural uses, forests, tidal marshes and freshwater wetlands. Low levels of infrastructure and services and low intensity development are key to preserving these rural treasures of the Lowcountry. Not only is it critical to our ecosystem, but also to residents and those who dream of calling the stunning Lowcountry their home.
Cooperation is a critical component of strategic growth planning
As stated in the plan, “The challenge the County faces with the Urban Growth Boundary is that it requires cooperation from jurisdictions such as the Cities of Charleston and North Charleston and the Town of Mount Pleasant and other service providers for it to be implemented effectively.” To date, the only City of Charleston and the Town of Mount Pleasant have adopted Charleston County’s urban growth boundaries. The City of North Charleston has retained the authority to determine its own boundaries. Collaboration between municipalities remains critical, to mitigate development potentially in conflict with the County’s Urban Growth Plan.
In an effort to solicit the involvement and build alliances with a broad range of constituents, the department hosts a Facebook page. It’s goal states, “The Charleston County Zoning & Planning Department hopes to utilize social media to better communicate with both County residents and visitors, disseminate useful information, gather feedback on current and future planning efforts, and notify people of upcoming meetings and community involvement opportunities to enhance the public participation process.”
Area specific considerations include three key proposed developments
Guidelines for defined projects provide sound direction for the growth of smaller communities bordering the urban boundary lines. Chapter 3.9 of the Zoning and Planning Comprehensive Plan identifies area- specific strategic planning initiatives. Addressing three of the fastest-growing areas of the county are these key plans:
- Proposed Spring Grove Development - In the West Ashley area, encompassing 14,500 acres from South of Savannah Highway to the county’s border, lays the proposed development of Spring Grove. The development, slated as a mixed use, higher density community would utilize existing public services and infrastructure in an Urban/Suburban area of the county.
- Mount Pleasant Overlay Zoning District - Sweetgrass Basket Stand Special Consideration Area - Charleston County, the Coastal Communities Foundation, and the Town of Mount Pleasant teamed up in 2007 to preserve the Sweetgrass Basket Stand Special Consideration Area. Highway 17 North has since been widened, and plans for the extension of Hungry Neck Boulevard were drafted. To implement cohesive land use patterns, zoning, and site design requirements, the Town of Mount Pleasant has amended their overlay-zoning district for this use.
Mount Pleasant transportation improvement plans include the realignment Long Point Road with Old Georgetown Road at Highway 17 North.
- Joint Base Charleston Overlay - Interconnectivity between any military installation and its surroundings provides an opportunity for leaders to team up and discuss the impact on state, regional and local economies and its direct impact on the increased needs for housing, services and infrastructure. To mitigate conflict with aircraft noise levels and general safety, a proposed plan is on the table to develop an overlay district with the public, Joint Base Charleston, the City of North Charleston and The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments teaming up for a win-win.
As with every effort, continuous evaluation is needed. And while growth corridor boundaries are re-evaluated during plan reviews, not all constituents are on board with the use of Urban Growth Boundaries as incorporated into Charleston County’s comprehensive growth plan.
The challenge of strategic growth management appears to remain as we enter 2017. The association’s annual Residential Market Update statistics of 2015 illustrate positive growth in real estate health in the aforementioned corridor areas, as compared to the previous year:
- North Charleston’s Dorchester Road Corridor saw a 22.4% increase in new listings
- A new construction market share increase of 35% in Upper Mount Pleasant, 25.7% in North Charleston, and 12.5% in West Ashley
- 95.9% of original price received on West Ashley home sales, 95.6% in greater North Charleston home sales, and 96.7% in Mount Pleasant
- Median home prices rose by 45.3% in Greater North Charleston, 32.5% in West Ashley, and 28.9% in Mount Pleasant
These statistics reflect good news for the economy of Charleston County, and projections for 2017 show additional promise. Yet the importance of balancing our growth, needs for infrastructure and commitment to protection of the ecosystem remain paramount.
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