Mount Pleasant Town Council considered and then rejected a 120-day moratorium on any building permits, which could have then led to a permit allocation program, during a meeting last night. The vote was 5-4.
In April, Town Council instituted a six-month halt to any new multifamily projects. Councilman Joe Bustos sought to expand that to all building permits with a motion that hearkened back to more than 15 years ago, when the town instituted a permit allocation program.
More than an hour of discussion and debate swirled around whether the previous restrictions on building permits had been successful in curbing growth. The vote finally came after Bustos and Mayor Linda Page traded verbal jabs over who was responsible for Mount Pleasant’s traffic problems and overcrowded schools. Most of the public speakers who commented on the moratorium were in favor of the measure.
How they voted
Bustos said the moratorium would allow the town’s affordable housing task force to finish work and give the town time to complete a study on impact fees. He said homeowners, residents and visitors talk to him constantly about traffic and the seemingly explosive development of residential real estate.
“It occurred to me that we’re asking our residents to sacrifice on a daily basis so that these homes can be built. They sacrifice in traffic. They sacrifice when they send their children to school. They sacrifice in the time it takes to get to their jobs,” Bustos said.
Councilman Bob Brimmer, who serves as chairman of the town’s Planning and Development Committee, said Bustos brought the measure to the full council despite Brimmer's asking him to wait until August to go through the Planning Committee process. He said there wasn’t enough time to get to the measure during the July meeting.
Brimmer said he preferred council members use their votes on individual projects as a scalpel to influence and possibly reject projects that were planned for problem areas in Mount Pleasant, rather than a blanket halt to all building permits.
“I’m concerned about the single property owner who wants to build a home or two on their property. We’re kind of lumping them into the big developers in town,” Brimmer said. “We’re not using a scalpel here. We’re taking a broad approach across the whole and that concerns me that we’re not being more strategic.”
Brimmer also said that a lot of businesses beyond landowners and property developers depend on construction and development.
“The development community in Mount Pleasant is more than the landowners,” Brimmer said. “It is realtors who own businesses, they’re business owners. You’ve got home improvement stores, and you’ve got professionals — electricians and plumbers — a lot of people who make their living off building, and I’m just concerned that we’re taking an action here that for many of the businesses who are now just recovering from the recession, we’re going to come back to them and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to put this on you now as well.’”
Page said she had concerns about the legality of a moratorium when so few specifics were available about how the measure might impact town finances and residents.
“You’re asking us to vote on something we’re very willing to discuss but that we don’t know what we’re voting on,” Page said, adding “What’s the impact to this community? Meaning, what’s the impact to the town’s budget? What is the impact to everyone who sits in the community?”
Mount Pleasant Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said earlier that the town’s budget would definitely be affected, and he would have to bring a midyear adjustment to the budget in January if the measure had passed. DeMoura emphasized that permit fees are not among the top revenue generators for the town.
Page said she preferred taking the measure to the Planning and Development Committee to be considered by the town’s staff and legal counsel using actual data before making a decision.
“We all realize that we’re having a very valid discussion,” Page said. “No one’s discounting your effort, but I’m very frustrated to have to vote tonight because I don’t want to pick a side on this, Joe. I want to have meaningful, substantial conversation based on facts and data.”