By Andy Owens
Published June 16, 2014
Mount Pleasant Town Council is working toward adopting a recommendation from the Planning Committee to require all commercial developments to come before the town’s Commercial Design Review Board for approval.
The amendment, which received first reading approval at the June town council meeting, changes the procedure for approval of new commercial construction, remodeling or alternations within the town.
Previously, developers had two options to get projects approved: Ask that the town’s staff review project design plans or go to the Commercial Design Review Board, which has the authority to deviate from the town’s guidelines (.pdf) if it thinks such an action is appropriate. Under the amendment, every project has to go before the board.
All proposed projects, whether they go through a compliance review by staff members or before the Commercial Design Review Board, are made public via a map on the town’s Planning Department Web page, and a commercial review status page shows where each project is in the approval process.
“During the recession, Town Council wanted to add greater speed to the project development process, so the staff option was created,” Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said in email. “The proposal now is to remove such option to make sure all applicants must go through the public process of the DRB.”
The town has a three-step approval process — pre-application review, preliminary review and final approval — to help developers and contractors make changes along the way to ensure they’re within the town’s architectural, design and planning guidelines. Smaller projects are allowed to go straight through to the final approval stage. There are also provisions for appeals.
DeMoura said the council might choose to exempt economic development properties or some small business projects under the proposed change.
Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall, who chairs the Planning Committee, added such an exception for economic development property, and she urged the council to include some time to alert businesses that might be in the middle of a project and affected by the change.
“I’m just saying that by amending this now that there could be ramifications for stakeholders,” Stokes-Marshall said.
Councilman Mark Smith said his only concern with the change was that it could slow the approval process for small-business owners. In other places where he has lived, he said the design review process ground to a halt when he tried to open a business. Smith said the process cost him significant amounts of money and time and delayed the opening of his business.
“Who’s going to stand up for the small-business owner who wants to open up a gelato shop?” Smith said. “I’m just concerned that we’re not looking out for the small-business owner.”
Resident Carmen Scott said she supported the measure and thought that Smith’s concerns could be addressed if the Commercial Design Review Board was given a specific timeline for making decisions.
“I don’t see how this harms us. I only see how this does good things for our beautiful community,” Scott said.
Two other individuals spoke in favor of the change, including the lead developer for an office building on Shem Creek, which has become a focal point both for residents concerned about building heights, particularly on Coleman Boulevard, and for developers concerned about development restrictions that might not be appropriate for all parts of the town.
Robert “Tex” Small of Shem Creek Development Group said he supported the change and thought it would lend itself to transparency about building projects in Mount Pleasant.
Resident Pat Sullivan said she thinks the Charleston region exhibits better architecture than some of the buildings she sees in Mount Pleasant. She specifically pointed out the new, 119-room Wyndham Garden Inn off Chuck Dawley Boulevard.
“I have to agree with comments that were made earlier about transparency and people need to be able to see what’s coming,” Sullivan said. “There is one building, brand-new, hasn’t opened up yet on Chuck Dawley Boulevard, and I bet if the review board took a look at it, it wouldn’t allow it. That building is an embarrassment, so I hope that this will alleviate things like that from happening.”
Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.