Final Vote Tuesday on 50-Acre Rule
Resident groups make final push as council moves to repeal limits on big-box store development.
Resident groups are preparing for a final stand on the repeal of a town ordinance that bars stores over 70,000 square feet from locating on parcels of land under 50 acres.
Town council has already voted once to repeal the so-called 50-Acre Rule, which some residents view as the final protection against rampant retail growth and proliferation of big-box stores in Mount Pleasant.
"This development, and the onslaught of others to come on available property throughout Mount Pleasant … is not compatible with the Town of Mount Pleasant’s Lowcountry character," wrote one resident in a letter to Mayor Billy Swails. "You can put a tuxedo on the Frankenstein monster, but it’s still a monster."
Town code requires a second vote Tuesday night to eliminate the rules. The council voted 5-to-4 last month in favor of repeal. The vote is really a formality at this point, and there's not much chance for a change, one councilman said.
"In my mind, this is a settled issue and it's time to move on," said Councilman Chris Nickels, who voted to keep the rules on the books last month. "This issue was aired out really well, there was an amazing fight, but one side prevailed."
This week, residents placed a half-page ad in the Moultrie News imploring the council to rethink its decision. The ad claims 25 parcels, ranging in size from 3 acres to 50 acres, could be "at risk" if the town repeals the 50-Acre Rule.
"We urge you to request the ordinance be returned to its original form — protecting Mount Pleasant and encouraging 'smart' economic growth," the ad reads.
The person or group behind the ad isn't disclosed, but residents of Wando Lakes and Snee Farms have been vocal opponents of repealing the rules.
Their neighborhoods abut a 40-acre parcel with Hwy. 17 frontage. The current 50-Acre rules would bar a developer from moving forward with plans to build three large retail stores on the property.
Henrich Properties proposed the project early in 2012, but said in February it was shelving the plans due to public outcry.
When in April the town's planning office said councilmen needed to repeal the 50-Acre Rule to correct a clerical error, many residents accused the town of bending over backwards to help Henrich move forward with its project.
Town officials have maintained that a vote in July 2011 to repeal the 50-Acre Rule, which passed with no controversy, did not remove the rules from both areas of town code where it appeared.
Councilmen who favored repeal said other parts of town code protect the citizens from projects that are not appropriate for Mount Pleasant. Even with the repeal, Henrich Properties must get its land rezoned from residential to commercial.
"Henrich Properties and its proposal for the Gregg Tract will have its day before this council, and it will have to address significant concerns," said Councilman Chris O'Neil, during last month's meeting.
But the 50-Acre Rule, they said, created arbitrary limits on development and pushed large retail to the very corners of Mount Pleasant. That created sprawl and the need for additional driving and infrastructure in those areas. Meanwhile, tracts of land stayed vacant closer to the town's core.
"Potentially, on a 20-acre tract of land, someone could build two 69,000-square-foot buildings but couldn't build one 75,000 square foot building," O'Neil said. "We've created an artificial idea of what a big-box store is."
Council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at its chambers on Ann Edwards Lane. Patch will stream the meeting live. Click here to watch.