New plans for regulating growth along Folly Road were approved by Charleston’s Planning Commission Wednesday night. After initially deferring a vote to create the Folly Road Overlay Zone in September, the commission decided to move ahead with an ordinance to limit building heights along the corridor and require larger residential projects include commercial space.
Following approval of a six-month moratorium on large developments in the island’s commercial areas, the Folly Road Overlay Zone came to Planning Commission as a unified effort between the city, Charleston County, and the town of James Island to draft similar ordinances to address development in the area. Along with approving the requirements, the Planning Commission also rezoned dozens of properties along Folly Road into the new overlay zone.
“I would encourage passing the Folly Road Overlay this evening, in large part because it does lend coherence that’s been lacking on James Island between the three bodies that are functioning,” said Charleston City Council member Kathleen Wilson, whose district includes a portion of the overlay zone. “Folly Beach has certainly played a role in this and has been consulted. I think we tend to forget whatever our actions on James Island, regardless if it’s city, town, or county, it impacts Folly Beach. Sometimes they tend to be the missing player in all this.”
Several property owners spoke out against the overlay zone as proposed, saying that the new plan adversely affects those hoping to sell or develop smaller plots of land. As approved by the Planning Commission, commercially zoned properties in the overlay would be limited to eight dwelling units per acre of high ground. An increased density would be allowed for projects providing additional workforce housing. These projects would also be exempt from the requirement that residential projects set aside 10 percent of their floor space for commercial uses as determined by floor space.
After a change by the Planning Commission, residential projects in the overlay less than 10,000 square feet would also bypass the commercial requirement. The commission also amended the proposed ordinance to increase allowable building heights by five feet, setting the new limit at a maximum of 40 feet or 2.5 stories, whichever is less as measured from the highest curb elevation on Folly Road adjacent to the site.
Commission member Chris Fraser raised questions about whether it was time to have a broader conversation with the county in terms of managing growth across the entire Charleston area, fearing that focusing on individual corridors was akin to playing “whack-a-mole” when managing housing problems. Commission member Harry Lesesne echoed Fraser’s sentiment, saying, “Every time we reduce density anywhere, it reduces the supply of housing and makes it more expensive. I’m not necessarily opposed to this, but again to Mr. Fraser’s point — we can’t have lower density and then try to address affordable housing or traffic. We’re just making those problems more difficult to solve.”