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Recently, the Mt. Pleasant Planning Commission has been entertaining a proposed ordinance that does away with bonus densities. The conversation has shifted from either allowing bonus densities to continue as they are or eliminating them entirely, and has instead started to focus on potentially capping bonus densities at a specific number based on where the property is in town.
What are bonus densities and why are they important?
All zoning districts have what is called a base density. This is a number that allows a certain amount of “units” per acre, meaning a certain amount of dwelling units allowed per acre. For dwellings like townhouses, condos, apartment buildings, and smaller homes with smaller lots, it is important to have a higher amount of units per acre available in order to accommodate a practical and successful project. Usual base densities in the town of Mt. Pleasant range between 16 and 20 units per acre. Bonus densities allow a project to increase the units per acre in accordance with demand and growth in a given area. Currently, bonus densities are granted in exchange for open space, workforce housing, aggregation of properties, and eliminating curb cuts onto certain side streets. It is important to keep bonus densities available for developers in order to maintain these positive effects of development. Simply removing bonus densities altogether and only having a maximum amount of units per acre available would result in projects that deprive the community of what it wants: open space, workforce housing, and eliminating curb cuts onto side streets.
What’s the current status of the proposed ordinance and where does the Chamber stand on the issue?
The Planning Commission has heard opinions from the public from both sides of the issue—those that support bonus densities and those that support the current proposed ordinance. The Planning Commission has been working diligently to draft a recommendation to give to Mt. Pleasant Town Council. At the meeting on May 20th, Planning Commission Chair Roy Neal suggested that instead of either eliminating bonus densities entirely or allowing bonus densities to continue without a specific amount restriction, caps should be placed on bonus densities by area.
While we support the proposed caps in the Johnnie Dodds and Longpoint areas, the Chamber does not support the proposed caps in the Coleman Urban Corridor or the Chuck Dawley Urban Corridor. The current base densities for mixed use projects in those areas are 20 units per acre, and the proposed cap is 20 units per acre. What this means is that there is now no incentive for developers to provide more open space, workforce housing, eliminate curb cuts, or aggregate properties in those areas because there will be no bonus densities available above 20 units per acre.
Who would benefit from appropriate caps being placed on bonus densities?
In short: everyone wins. Placing appropriate caps on bonus densities prevents large, out-of-control projects that are too much for the town to accommodate, while still allowing developers to achieve and create the types of projects that the town of Mt. Pleasant desires. Projects that are larger than what the base densities allow are important for the town of Mt. Pleasant because we are growing at a rapid rate, and we want people to be able to work and live in Mt. Pleasant. Having the ability to build projects with higher amounts of units per acre increases the amount of multi-family units and smaller single-family units in our area. This gives people more options for places to live, increases the supply of these types of homes, which ultimately will lower the cost of homes in Mt. Pleasant.
Why is the Chamber involved in this issue?
The Chamber is committed to maintaining a flourishing economic environment in the Charleston region. Attracting young professionals is crucial to economic development in Mt. Pleasant, and without larger densities available, young professionals will have a difficult time finding places to live in our area and will subsequently move elsewhere. With the population in the Charleston region continuing to climb, it is time to take a different approach to growth than what has been taken in the past: we need to be denser instead of continuing to sprawl. We ask that you join us in our support of creating appropriate capped bonus densities that are low enough to prevent overcrowding but high enough to maintain economic growth in the Mt. Pleasant community.