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What Mount Pleasant can expect from multifamily freeze

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The 254 units under construction for Oyster Park apartments off Rifle Range Road are expected to be completed in early 2017. (Photo/Andy Owens)

Multifamily developments in Mount Pleasant

Under Construction

 

Project Units
Brightside II 324 (Phase I)
Tides IV 55
Oyster Park 254
Six Mile Market Place 92
Indigo Square 456
Rivers Walk Phase 2 78

 

Approved

Project Units
Brightside II 573 (including Phase I)
Haven Phase 2 140
Carolina Park 530
Boulevard Phase 2 105

 

In 2015, Rock Hill was growing weary of its role as a bedroom community for Charlotte.

People rented inexpensive apartments and commuted across the state line to work. That dynamic sparked a wave of monolithic, garden apartment complexes that were disconnected from the town, housing a group of residents who were disconnected from the community.


That moratorium ended recently, and Rock Hill Planning and Development Director Bill Meyer said the measure accomplished the city’s goals, including raising apartment rents.But demand was high, and a rush of low-cost, multifamily dwellings came up for approval. With more than 1,000 units already in the pipeline, Rock Hill City Council halted multifamily developments for nine months, with a possible three-month extension.

“A moratorium is just a mechanism to other goals,” Meyer said. “My opinion is when it’s used as just a tool in and of itself because someone is trying to close a door or plug a hole, that’s probably not a good use of the mechanism.”

Mount Pleasant’s moratorium

Mount Pleasant Town Council put a six-month moratorium on multifamily housing last month. The measure passed by one vote after a lengthy debate that recalled a building permit quota instituted 16 years ago to slow a 13% growth rate. Last year, the town grew at 2.91%.

Proponents, including Councilman Joe Bustos, said the move would allow the town to assess infrastructure needs as growth threatens to overrun the town. He said pausing multifamily developments could also allow developers to find options for affordable housing.

Bustos pointed out that over the past five or six years, as several large-scale apartments and multifamily projects have been approved and built, none has included affordable housing.

“The development community, I believe, has the wherewithal, the understanding to come in and say, ‘I can produce affordable housing. I can produce senior housing,’ ” Bustos said.

Several council members and Mayor Linda Page spoke against any moratorium. Page said she didn’t even like the use of the word. Several pointed to the town’s 2.91% growth rate and its ratio of single-family housing to multifamily housing as examples of why the moratorium was not needed.

Mount Pleasant has about 2,200 multifamily units either under construction or approved for construction, according to the town’s planning department. That’s more than Rock Hill when it halted multifamily developments.

Meyer cautioned that not long ago everyone was wondering whether the real estate market would bounce back from the Great Recession. He said if developers are following zoning regulations — even if development is faster than some people like — towns should be wary of trying to stop that growth.

“Real estate moves in cycles. ... If you’ve been around a few years like I have, you realize the roller coaster always goes in the other direction,” Meyer said.

How long is 180 days?

Before the vote, Councilman Elton Carrier said the measure could set the town’s economic development efforts back beyond the proposed six months.

“When you start something like this, it doesn’t turn around,” Carrier said. “You can say 180 days. You can say a year. It just doesn’t turn around. We get that connotation that we’re not open for business folks, and that’s a sad thing.”

Fred Tayco, director of government affairs for the National Apartment Association in Arlington, Va., said the length of a moratorium doesn’t matter because it sends a message that this kind of development is undesirable.

Tayco said moratoriums are relatively rare because governments typically have long-term plans and laws that govern land use and community development.

“There are already mechanisms in place to handle the impacts that growth brings with it,” he said. “The other reasons you haven’t heard about it in a while are moratoriums are a good-economy issue. Believe it or not, it’s somewhat of a good sign. It means development is going on.”

Tayco said growth can accelerate at such a pace that change is needed, but he added that the public process — dialogue with developers, community residents, school leaders and affordable housing advocates — shouldn’t be cut.

Phillip Ford, executive vice president at the Charleston Home Builders Association, said six months likely won’t drastically change the housing market or economic development in Mount Pleasant, but he said no one in the development community has forgotten the permit quota. He said some of the residual issues Mount Pleasant struggles with, including congestion and a lack of affordable housing for teachers, first responders and service workers, can be directly traced to the permit quota.

“It pushed a lot of people out to the suburbs, out to North Charleston, Dorchester County and Berkeley County. When you increase the costs, now you’re pushing people out,” Ford said.

He said the town put a lot of work into the Coleman Overlay District and said that plan hasn’t been given a chance to succeed.

“One apartment complex is built and the whole thing needs to be trashed? You have to stop at some point and stick to a plan,” Ford said.

He said the Lowcountry isn’t like a lot of places, where developers parachute in, build and then leave. He said many developers live and work in the region and want to see it succeed, sustainably.

“Why don’t we sit down with the apartment developers, the citizens and town government and determine what the best options are for dealing with infrastructure issues and growth?” Ford said. “We’re smart enough people. We want this area to grow. We want jobs.”

Coleman Boulevard isn’t going to look like it did in 1965, Ford said, adding that what really matters is what happens at the end of six months.

How affordable is ‘affordable’?

Tayco said a multifamily moratorium is probably the worst thing to do to promote affordable housing.

“What ends up happening is whatever does end up getting built ends up costing more than it should. By making the process difficult it makes the product more expensive,” Tayco said.

Unlike in Mount Pleasant, Rock Hill wanted to increase the prices of multifamily dwelling units, Meyer said, and it understood that a moratorium would move residential rates in that direction.

Lisa Pelloni, president of the Charleston Apartment Association, said because Mount Pleasant is one of the fastest-growing towns in America, apartment projects are critical to the town’s future.

“The town of Mount Pleasant needs to develop a long-term plan for growth that will accommodate not only rising home prices for homeowners but also allows for the increased density of affordable apartment living,” she said.

Patrick Arnold, government affairs director for the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, asked the town to rethink the moratorium, saying that limiting supply would only make it more difficult for first responders and teachers to live in the town.

Town Councilman Will Haynie said in talking to other communities he discovered that affordable housing should be built into communities instead of being sequestered to one area or piece of property, as Mount Pleasant did in the past.

“I want the business community, I want the apartment community to get the 10,000-foot view that we’re not closing Mount Pleasant for business. We’re not going out of the apartment business in Mount Pleasant,” Haynie said.

Tayco said the only time he’s seen a moratorium used to positive effect was in the case of a health or safety concern with a piece of land. Absent that, he said, a city should go through a deliberate, transparent process, including stakeholders who would be affected, such as developers and affordable housing advocates. He said the argument that a moratorium will help the town secure affordable housing doesn’t make sense.

“As a community, if the reason given doesn’t make sense upfront, then you have to start guessing at other reasons,” he said.

Published from the May 2, 2016 print issue

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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