Charleston Chamber: Let’s properly manage growth

City of Charleston grows quickly   Courtesy of

The Charleston region is no longer a sleepy southern town; it’s an internationally recognized location for business that must be able to compete globally, says Mary Graham, chief advancement officer for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

“That means we have to think and act differently in addressing community issues – whether that is talent development, traffic management or growth management,” Graham told Palmetto Business Daily.

“Our region today is growing rapidly and the economic opportunity is enormous,” she said. “We can’t -- nor want -- to stop the growth, it is all in how we manage it.”

And how that future growth gets managed isn’t being properly laid out in the region’s Mt. Pleasant Growth Management Plan, say the chamber and several other business stakeholders and regional membership organizations.

In fact, if it’s implemented as-is, they say, the plan would increase recreation and development fees, end bonus densities and halt the increased density commonly used in planned development. The results would be inflated housing prices that would get snubbed by a much-needed population of new home buyers.

Speaking of inflated housing prices, Charleston already has earned the newest slot on CoreLogic Market Condition Indicators Report’s list of the top-seven “over-valued” major U.S. housing markets. Such branding is based on several economic variables, one being that as Charleston home prices have risen sharply since 2013, homes have become less affordable, and, therefore, home prices less sustainable.

Consequently, if these unaffordable housing prices continue rising, then young professionals would seek more affordable homes elsewhere. In turn, the region could end up struggling to survive “because the tax base is eroding, the local governments are struggling to provide services, and citizens don’t have job opportunities to help raise their standard of living,” Graham said. “We can all agree we don’t want to look like that.”

Swayed by such concerns, the Town Council this spring stalled the growth plan’s second reading while it works over the next few months to make adjustments.

For its part, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, which for more than a decade has been concerned with sprawl, traffic congestion and having a diversity of housing options – including options in pricing -- advocates building up instead of out, Graham said.

“One of the reasons we believe we need to build more densely is that it can help to promote more housing options,” Graham told Palmetto Business Daily. “If a developer can build more units per acre, their cost per unit is less and can help to develop housing at a lower cost.”

Additionally, she said, housing trends show buyers prefer living spaces that are better connected to amenities such as restaurants and shopping. “If communities have those options within walking distance, it also can eliminate the need to drive everywhere and relieve traffic congestion.”

For the chamber, Graham said, this is not about whether the region grows or not; rather, it’s about how it should grow.

“The anti-growth voices we are hearing in our community are not the majority of residents and many times they are reacting to misinformation,” she said. “We want to help educate so that our citizens can make informed decisions about growth.”

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