Coleman Boulevard is in the midst of a major revitalization, and some area residents are less than enthusiastic about these developments. A near steady stream of complaints has reached the ears of the local representatives spearheading the changes — via public meetings, emails, online petitions, and media coverage. And it appears that the kerfuffle about the proposed parking garage near Shem Creek got the desired effect — a multitude of "Save Shem Creek" stickers now adorn a number of the cars in the area, giving additional attention to an ongoing debate in the ninth fastest growing city in the U.S., a debate that pits the proponents of planned growth against those who want to preserve what Mt. Pleasant presently is.
James Bagwell, a lifelong Mt. Pleasant resident and one of the creators of the Save Shem Creek bumper sticker, doesn't believe it is an either/or situation. "I believe that we can have development that is in harmony with what the public wants and still promote economic development. My main concern is the scale of development and increasing density," he says. "We are trying to save the coastal village ambiance of Mt. Pleasant from runaway development. The construction of 55-foot to 75-foot buildings on Coleman Boulevard, especially in the Shem Creek area, will destroy the small-town feeling that I believe most residents want to preserve.
It seems as though the population boom will only continue, so exactly how will Save Shem Creek bumper stickers have any effect? Bagwell explains, "My end goal for our efforts is to see the existing provisions of the Coleman Revitalization Plan (CRAB) scaled back to preserve the small-town feeling in the older areas of Mt. Pleasant. This includes all residential and commercial areas along the Coleman Boulevard corridor. The main areas of concern are the building height and density of proposed developments. We are already seeing dramatically increased traffic congestion in this area."
Bagwell's fellow bumper sticker creator Jim Owens is a large voice in the Mt. Pleasant preservationist movement, thanks in part to the Save Shem Creek Facebook page. He says, "This is the place that I call home, and the greatest place on the planet to grow up and raise your own family in. Before making uncharacteristic changes to the natural landscape of a charming, small, and eclectic coastal town, wouldn't it seem to be prudent to model what the changes will look like before making a hasty decision and sound the alarm of full steam ahead?"
He continues, "We want to work collectively with council and local government to make responsible decisions going forward and be more successful in this process of development."
As for that process, Mayor Linda Page recently proposed to reinstate the Design Review Board (DRB), formally a mandatory part of the process which was removed a few years back to expedite development.
Owens, for one, is thrilled with Page's proposal. "The DRB had been in place for eons basically, until the economic downtown. Without as many projects, they removed it," he says. "Now that it's picking back up, it's a good time to reinstate the DRB. It's another set of eyes."
James Scott, another Mt. P. resident and a continual thorn in the side of developers, also believes the effort to bring back the Design Review Board is a positive move. "Requiring proposed new projects to go before the DRB means residents will have a much greater opportunity to shape future developments before they are built," he says. "Thankfully, Mayor Linda Page has resurrected this idea."
The return of the DRB might be the only thing Owens is feeling positive about: his list of complaints regarding area development is growing. He sends out regular emails to a list of interested residents reporting on town council meetings and development news and encouraging participation. His vocalization began with Earl's Court, a small plot of land at the entryway of the Old Village that has managed to squeeze 26 homes onto less than an acre and half. Not surprisingly, he is troubled by the development.
While Owens and others have focused on Shem Creek, Scott has turned his attention to development overall, focusing on height ordinances. "75-feet is too high," says Owens. "This needs to be negotiated. Level heads need to come together and find some common ground. We're talking about a coastal town. Show me a coastal community with an urban corridor of buildings."
Last Wednesday, the Mt. Pleasant Planning Commission voted to reduce the 75-foot limit to 60 feet and the 55-foot limit to 50 feet. The measure will now have to be approved by town council.
The newest bone that anti-development activists have to pick involves the parking debacle that has occurred with The Boulevard complex. The concept behind The Boulevard was that residents would "live, work, and play" all in the same place. People would trade in their cars for bikes and walking shoes — that, of course, was the rationale behind only requiring one parking space per unit. But up to this point, there hasn't been enough parking spaces for residential units. As a result, some Boulevard residents have begun parking on nearby King Street, angering neighbors.
Phase II of The Boulevard aims to correct the parking situation by offering 1.5 spots per unit; that's approximately 630 parking spots for 425 units. While some Mt. Pleasant residents might be inconvenienced and some, like Owens and Bagwell, might do something about it, newcomers aren't complaining. Earl's Court sells houses as fast as they're being built, and The Boulevard is teeming with happy residents, thrilled with the central location and upscale amenities.
Stuck between the two, Mt. Pleasant officials are working furiously to accommodate both the disenchanted people who voted them into office and the growing ranks of newcomers choosing to call this coastal town home.