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10 years later, Charleston planners say development went according to plan

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 9:29 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 14, 2021 at 4:14 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The document guiding future development in Charleston for the next 10 years has now been approved by the city council.

The Comprehensive Plan for the City of Charleston lays out what should be built and where. It’s a framework document the city is required to produce every 10 years.

Development is not required to follow the plan, but it’s usually a strong factor considered when the council approves a project. The planning manager for the City of Charleston Christopher Morgan says the last comprehensive plan played a major role in how things look today.

“I think it was pretty closely followed. It called for a lot of emphasis on infill and redevelopment in areas where we already have key transportation routes and infrastructure. Hence you see a lot of redevelopments in the downtown area where we already have a lot of key transportation routes and infrastructure,” Morgan said, arguing the plan called for and kept urban sprawl down and persevered rural, natural areas on James and Johns Islands.

Morgan, who helped develop both plans, says the plan from 2011 was good but had some pitfalls. Not every project fit within the plan’s framework. Morgan says the development of roads with accessibility to bikers and pedestrians has been difficult because many projects are done with state or federal assistance.

“We put a lot of emphasis on how roads are built and rebuilt, and we probably have not had as much success with that. There was a strong emphasis on multimodal streets and it’s very difficult to get our street entities to upgrade their standards,” Morgan said, mentioning they had hoped there would be more walking and biking lanes by now.

Other goals were practically left out of the 2011 plan altogether. Morgan says they didn’t really consider flooding when making the previous plan, but it is now one of the focal points for the new plan.

“We had not had the storm issues in that time period that we did in 2016, 2017, 2018 in that era that really brought home to a lot of folks the situation that we are in with sea level rise, with greater storms and climate change that is very much in the front of people’s minds,” Morgan said.

The new plan primarily meets with approval from groups like the Coastal Conservation League.

“A lot of what’s in the plan is really positive,” Betsy La Force with the Coastal Conservation League said. “There are steps forward based in science thinking about climate change, sea level rise, flooding – really important considerations – transportation.”

However, La Force says it’s not perfect. She points to two areas they disapprove of – the development plan for the Cainhoy area and the plan’s support for the Mark Clark 526 extension project.

Of course, the comprehensive plan is just a framework and building projects will still need approval by city council.

“As decisions come up and it’s time to make these decisions on different developments, this is what city planners and decision makers point to and say, ‘well the comprehensive plan is recommending XY and Z, therefore we should move forward with this project,” La Force said. “That’s why it’s so important to send a strong message in the city plan of exactly how we want the city to grow "

The city council approved the new comprehensive plan on Tuesday. You can see it here: https://www.charlestoncityplan.com/view

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