Mount Pleasant takes step to change project approval process

By Andy Owens
aowens@scbiznews.com
Published Aug. 13, 2014

Mount Pleasant Town Council gave preliminary approval to a measure Tuesday that would change how commercial developments are reviewed in the town.

If it reaches final approval, all commercial developments would be required to come before the town’s Commercial Design Review Board for approval with a few exceptions.

Presently in Mount Pleasant, commercial developers have 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 if it thinks such an action is appropriate.

The new ordinance calls for projects costing more than $250,000 to go before the board. It does allow exemptions for economic development prospects and minor projects — whose total cost doesn’t exceed $250,000 — to continue to go before the town staff as long as the zoning director agrees the costs are reasonable estimates.

Councilman Elton Carrier suggested that $250,000 ceiling was too high, while others on the council suggested the ceiling should be raised to half a million dollars.

“With all due respect, $250,000, especially in the town of Mount Pleasant, doesn’t go very far. I propose that we move that number to $500,000 for approval,” Councilman Mark Smith said. “Have you bought a sign lately that complies with our laws?”

Councilman Chris Nickels said even if the town approved a $250,000 ceiling, it could be changed later.

“Actually I did buy a sign. I bought it over on Daniel Island. It was $10,000. Everything is more expensive over there, as we know,” Nickels said, jokingly. “If we do a quarter of a million dollars, and it’s approved, through time there’s nothing that prevents this council, a future council or a council after that to revisit the number.”

Carrier said the council didn’t have a number in mind when they asked for a specific change to this part of the law. He asked for a developer from Landmark Enterprises, which is building a 62,500- square-foot Class A office building and co-developing a 110-room Marriott hotel on Coleman Boulevard, to speak about the changes.

Jason Ward, vice president of development for Landmark, said he would lean more toward the $500,000 ceiling because of the time it might take to get changes approved or rejected. For example, he said a Mount Pleasant staff member responded to a proposed change to the hotel at Gateway Mount Pleasant within 24 hours. The change was rejected.

“He did his job and the Marriott backed off, and I’ll just tell you we have a better project for it,” Ward said.

He said the cost of the office and hotel project had increased by about $500,000 overall because of changes suggested by the planning staff, but the project was better for it.

Ward expressed concern about the timing of the implementation of the change to the approval process. He said because working with the town staff can sometimes be quicker, there has been a rush by developers to get project packages in before this change was made.

The proposed ordinance would allow projects to remain under staff review until Dec. 31. The town’s Planning Commission had suggested a six-month delay. Ward said he would like to see a 12-month delay on implementation so his project could continue with the staff members who understood the Gateway project in detail.

“I know it's a lot to ask, but we just want to finish the project like we started it, with staff,” he said.

Council also voted to change the makeup of the Commercial Design Review Board to allow either a general contractor or engineer to serve in one of three sector-specific seats on the seven-member board.

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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