City of Charleston Comprehensive Plan Update
WHAT IS THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN?
The Comprehensive Plan is the overarching planning document that outlines goals for the next decade of growth in the City of Charleston. The plan guides local decision makers in managing change in our city, including how and where we develop, natural and cultural resources, affordable housing, economic growth, transportation, energy and more. South Carolina state law requires municipalities to create, implement, and regulate local growth and redevelopment through comprehensive plans & zoning and land development regulation ordinances that must be reviewed every five years and updated every ten.
BOLD CHANGES FOR THE TEN-YEAR UPDATE
Currently, the City of Charleston is working from the Century V plan that was last updated by the City of Charleston Planning Commission in 2010 and adopted by Charleston City Council in 2011. The newly updated plan, adopted early 2021 will be called the City Plan – and it will be unlike any comprehensive plan update the City has worked on in the past.
Today the City is facing challenges that were hard to imagine a decade ago – like increasing effects from climate change: sea level rise and more frequent storm events. We have learned a lot of hard lessons around flooding in the past ten years, and this update is our best opportunity to address changes that need to be made in the City of Charleston in order to be aligned with our reality of living with water.
Along with the exponential growth the City of Charleston has experienced over the last decade, there has also been a major paradigm shift in the way the City approaches resilience and flood mitigation projects. Starting in 2015, five consecutive years of major storm and flooding events caused the City to identify flooding as its number one priority. The 1,000-year flood, hurricane Joaquin, hurricane Matthew, hurricane Irma, tropical storm Florence, and hurricane Dorian opened our eyes to the harrowing reality of the damage that rainfall, storm surge and sea level rise can wreak on our city.
In addition to these numerous named storm events, 2019 was a record-breaking year of sunny day flood events occurring 89 times. That number is only going up and we know that today’s flood will be tomorrow’s high tide – wherever the water is now will only continue to get higher in the future and we must plan accordingly to be able to adapt.
Resilient Approaches to Land Use
This Comprehensive Plan is our opportunity to develop a framework for how Charleston will respond to sea level rise and change where and how new developments are allowed to be built. We must call for new land use policies that shift new developments away from low lying flood prone areas to locations on higher ground where infrastructure already exists to support growth. The lowest-lying areas in the city should be identified and mapped so the public knows exactly where dense development should not be located.
Green infrastructure and nature-based solutions that work with rather than against water need to be required in all new projects moving forward. Maintaining the health of our ecosystem and natural environment as we grow and develop into the future is critical. Nature is our best line of defense against flooding.
The Urban Growth Boundary needs to be solidified in its current location in order to conserve our rural farm lands and guide future development to areas inside the boundary where infrastructure already exists.
New policies need to be adopted that enable development agreements and Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) be reviewed and revised at a minimum of every five years in order to adapt to climate change. For example, two massive developments that were approved before 2015: Long Savannah in West Ashley and Cainhoy near Daniel Island include plans to fill hundreds of acres of wetlands and locate thousands of residential and commercial buildings in the floodplain. Long Savannah is situated within the notoriously flood-prone Church Creek Basin and is approved for 6,000 houses, and Cainhoy near Daniel Island is approved for 18,000 houses while nearly half of the 9,000-acre property is located within the 100-year floodplain. These developments are just two examples of properties in Charleston with Planned Unit Development (PUD) zonings with master plans that do not have any provisions for periodic review and updates based on new information or changes in citywide policy. Essentially, the City of Charleston approved two new small cities on the edges of our urban areas before our entire focus on resilience came about after 2015.
This ten-year update to the comprehensive plan is our best chance to shape the future according to science-based facts. Existing community and expert led initiatives such as the City’s Flooding and Sea Level Rise Strategy, the Johns Island Community Plan and the Dutch Dialogues Final Report have helped to clearly define local improvements that need to be made to properly address development related challenges like flooding and traffic. The Conservation League is calling for these well formulated plans to be formally incorporated into the City’s comprehensive plan update.
MODERN TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS FOR A GROWING CITY
Transportation planning for the next decade and beyond needs to prioritize a transportation network that includes all modes of travel. This ten-year update to the Comprehensive Plan is a key opportunity to emphasize the need for priority planning for increased connectivity and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure with every new project that is built or existing project that is improved.
Access for bicycles and pedestrians to move safely and easily throughout the City – especially across our bridges – is an essential element of the City’s successful street network. Charlestonians deserve to be provided with more choice, connectivity and safe access to getting around the region outside of a car.
In 2008, the City of Charleston adopted a Complete Streets resolution acknowledging that streets are our most prominent public spaces and that great streets must achieve a balance between mobility needs, adjoining land uses, and environment & community interests. Ten years later in 2018 the City of Charleston adopted its first ever Citywide Transportation Plan that included a comprehensive plan for bike lanes downtown and future plans for road connectivity throughout the entire city. But we still have a long way to go as a City to reach these goals of expanding regional bike/ped systems and increasing options for multiple modes of transportation beyond car travel.
Traffic remains a top concern for City of Charleston residents. And the congestion problem is only going to worsen as Charleston grows and new subdivisions are built throughout the City without adding connectivity to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and mass transit like the Lowcountry Rapid Transit BRT project.
The best way to relieve traffic congestion is to take cars off the road by offering multiple modes of transportation. Te cannot simply widen and build our way out of traffic congestion. So, for this comprehensive plan update, the City must prioritize solutions that take cars off the road, connect existing neighborhoods, and focus on improving safety conditions on existing roads and intersections.
For example: The path that the Lowcountry Rapid Transit line will run along Meeting Street and Calhoun Street need to be redesigned to accommodate all road users with bicycle lanes and a dedicated lane for the rapid transit system. Folly Road on James Island and the Glenn McConnell Parkway and Savannah Highway in West Ashley should also be prioritized for Bus Rapid Transit lines. And it is time to begin planning for a public transit system to be brought out to the growing Johns Island Community and work with local governments across the region to develop a commuter ferry system.
In addition to expanding multimodal transportation infrastructure throughout the city, interconnections between existing neighborhoods need to be created to provide ways to move around areas without relying exclusively on main arterial roads.
GET INVOLVED – IT MATTERS
City staff need to hear from a wide array of residents throughout incorporated areas of the City of Charleston to understand the needs, concerns and desires of residents and make this a successful update.
There is still time to make your voice heard in the City’s Comprehensive Plan update process.
- Take the City’s online survey before November 16
- Email any ideas and feedback to: [email protected]
- Call the City Plan team directly at 843-834-5268 to have a conversation
- Subscribe to the City Plan newsletter to stay up to date on the process
- Follow the City of Charleston on Facebook , YouTube, and Twitter.
These are just a few key priorities that need updating in the new City Plan. Please stay engaged and tuned in for opportunities to make your voice heard throughout this process. Thank you so much for your commitment to our community and for weighing in to help shape Charleston’s future for decades to come.