Hicks column: Would another layer of government on Johns Island stop growth? – Charleston Post Courier

Its easy to see why longtime Johns Island residents are frustrated.

Just drive out there and take a look ... but allot a couple of hours for the commute.

There are new subdivisions sprouting up every year and maddening rush-hour traffic every day. Now, they even have a gathering place an uber-urban collection of apartments, restaurants and retail businesses right there on Maybank Highway.

For some folks, its all just a little too James Island. This was predictably unavoidable given geography, population influx and property rights. People attempting to flee the citys rising home prices were bound to look for the nearest undeveloped spot, and some landowners saw dollar signs.

Old-timers fear the once-rural haven is vanishing and will disappear completely if Interstate 526 is extended onto the island. But forming another town to fight growth, as some residents are contemplating, may not be the answer.

In fact, it could have the exact opposite effect.

Right now, most of the growth on Johns Island crops up on land within the municipal borders of Charleston. A new town could do nothing about that. But that growth also is, not coincidentally, within the Urban Growth Boundary, beyond which the city and Charleston County have agreed they will not allow intense development.

Or, in most cases, even sewer lines the great enabler of development.

Nearly 79 percent of Johns Island or 60 of its 76 square miles is outside that boundary, which means it is already protected about as much as it legally can be. Most of that land is zoned for rural development that rarely allows more than one house per acre.

That is where a new town would form.

Thomas Legare, the islands unofficial mayor and one of the proponents of a local town, is certainly not looking for more density or development out that way. In fact, hed fight it pretty fiercely.

But hes only one person, and unless the new town government agreed to sign onto the Urban Growth Boundary, it wouldnt be forced to abide by those parameters.

Which means future elected officials could allow for any manner of sins against the remaining rural parts of the island. And make no mistake, some landowners would lobby for those rights there is too much money to be made.

It would be nearly impossible for a new town to make development more prohibitive than it is now. That would require down-zoning peoples property, and thats an expensive proposition that would involve years of court battles. The forest and agricultural land of currently unincorporated Johns Island wouldnt generate enough in taxes to fund such a crusade.

Of course, that assumes any municipality formed on Johns Island would be a real government and not a paper town like James Island, which exists only to block the city of Charleston from annexing more land there.

Johns Island would have to do things differently if it wants expanded police protection and flood mitigation. And more than half of residents would have to approve of a new town. Thats not a given, as Johns Island residents like everyone else are pretty divided. Believe it or not, some of them actually want 526. So this isnt something that happens overnight. James Island fought Charleston for 30 years to create its, ahem, minimalist town and finally won only because local legislators changed state law to help it do it.

The city might not fight a Johns Island incorporation, but those lawmakers probably would. They suspect this is a ploy to block the aforementioned 526, and they arent about to let that happen.

And the county, home to 18 municipalities already, is not keen to subsidize a 19th. Most of them already privately grumble about supporting the town of James Island.

Johns Islanders wisely retained local attorney Trent Kernodle, the man who helped James Island incorporate, to develop their plan. He told reporter Mikaela Porter there are a lot of questions to answer before this could happen.

Hes absolutely right. But the first question Johns Islanders have to ask themselves is this: Will another layer of government actually slow growth, or just give them a larger platform to vent their growing frustration?

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Hicks column: Would another layer of government on Johns Island stop growth? - Charleston Post Courier

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