Planning committee to look at Coleman development concerns

  • Thursday, December 19, 2013

The ribbon is cut on Earl’s Court in the Old Village. PHOTO PROVIDED

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There will be no moratorium on development along Coleman Boulevard, as some might have hoped. But the Mount Pleasant Planning Committee will review concerns about development along the stretch as they arise.

Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Gary Santos proposed a motion to put in place a moratorium on future development along the corridor because residents of the Old Village expressed concerns about the already developed Boulevard and the under-construction Earl’s Court.

The issue is density and the lasting effects it will have on the Old Village and surrounding neighborhoods.

Santos’ motion did not receive a second, but councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshal made a motion for the council planning committee that she chairs to review issues raised by residents regarding the boulevard development. That motion passed with Santos voting no.

Vince Graham, the president of the I’On Group with offices at 414 Whilden Street, is developing Earl’s Court, which sits at the front door of the Old Village.

The plan calls for 26 single-family homes, all with different designs between 1,000 and 1,700 square feet, as well as shops.

It was approved as part of the Coleman Boulevard Revitalization Plan which will reshape the street into a more walk-able, bike-able area, with on-street parking, outdoor dining and other urban details. The town approved the plan and its Coleman Boulevard Overlay District in 2008.

And as Graham’s project started to go vertical, so did the ire of local residents. An email chain was formed and a petition to stop development was circulated and signed by more than 800 people.

A meeting with residents was held by town staff and town councilman Elton Carrier and another one was held for residents by councilman Santos to voice concerns.

Graham attended Santos’ meeting. He said his developments are built in the spirit of inclusiveness.

He told the crowd, “I don’t begrudge anyone their right to live wherever they choose - whether it be in a place like the walk-able Old Village or in an exclusive, low-density, automobile-dependent community. However, I also know that people like to exercise choice - a deeply cherished American value,” said Graham.

“The town’s overlay district represents a vision that will offer such choice within the context of creating a main street for downtown Mount Pleasant. Will the envisioned downtown be perfect? No. Perfection is not an option. Certainly we can improve as we go, and I think that is what the capable staff and council members who’ve been leading this redevelopment effort since 2005 will do.”

He suggested that citizens begin to question the underlying assumptions behind our automobile culture. “For example, consider the intersection at the front door of the Old Village. The drive lanes of the intersecting streets are excessively wide, inviting motorists to hit the accelerator when entering or departing the Old Village. This combination of high speed and pedestrian traffic is unsafe. Must it continue to be dangerous?”

He suggested widened sidewalks and oak-planted medians to calm traffic speed along Whilden from an average of 30-40 mph to say 15-20 mph. Improved aesthetics and enhanced safety for motorized and non-motorized (pedestrian and bicycle) traffic would make the effort worthwhile.

He concluded by saying that Earl’s Court is a complementary addition to the Old Village, “one that provides an effective transition from the relative busyness of Coleman to the slower pace on Whilden Street and its surrounding, mixed-use blocks. I am attempting to build within established rights, and the effort to politically expropriate these rights is, at best, unfortunate.”

Concerned citizen Dave Shimp expressed to council in a letter that “it seems to me that we had to pass the revitalization plan to see what’s in it. Well, we have seen what’s in it and we simply don’t think that important components have been fully considered.”

He said real solution needs to come from an open and inclusive process that re-validates the regulations governing this enormous and irreversible change to the character of the community. “These rules are not set in stone.”

Shimp added that “it may be too late for some projects, but that does not preclude a mid-course correction, if appropriate and legal, for the rest.”

Jimmy Bagwell, a lifelong resident of the town and former town council member, told officials that when the Coleman Boulevard Revitalization Advisory Board (CRAB) was created to look at the Coleman Boulevard corridor and the present plan was brought to the citizens for their input, a lot of people voiced concerns. He said he felt like the plan was pushed through, and the community is dealing with the results today. “I know a lot of people felt that it was primarily a plan to move traffic and encourage business development on Coleman Boulevard. I think the density planned for the Overlay District was misunderstood by a lot of those who looked at the plan, especially in areas off of Coleman like the corner of Hibben and Whilden.

Not until Earl’s Court became a reality were people fully aware of what was getting ready to happen in the Overlay District.”

“The question might be asked of the town council, to whom do you owe what? It seems to me that the answer comes from the constituents, and I think most would agree that we want to preserve a lifestyle. At what point does a developer’s desire to maximize his profit supercede a community’s right to quality of life?” asked Kathy Gaffos.

Those questions will perhaps be answered as the planning committee reviews the concerns. The motion that council approved Tuesday night directs the planning committee to review how Coleman Boulevard revitalization and the rezoning that made it possible affects adjacent neighborhoods. Parking, building setbacks, density, streets and minimum lot size are some of the areas that will be studied. The committee is to report its findings back to council within 60 days.

Earl’s Court Phase III is on the Planning Commission’s agenda Wednesday, Dec. 18. The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the council chambers.

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