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Foundation Matters

Comprehensive Planning 101

Posted: April 27, 2020

This year, the City of Charleston is obligated to re-write its local comprehensive land use plan. A comprehensive land use plan acts a guiding document for development and redevelopment of a city and is representative of its visions and goals. It is an essential backbone of the planning process and will inform how the city makes decisions regarding all aspects of land use planning.

Charleston last adopted its Comprehensive Plan, the Century V Plan, in February 2011 and completed the mandated review of that plan in December 2016. The Century V Plan was initially developed in the late 1990s (released in 2000) and was driven by the goals of protecting natural resources while developing livable neighborhoods, ensuring high quality of life and public services for citizens, providing transportation options, and ensuring economic sustainability.

Since the Century V Plan was adopted, Charleston has undergone significant social and environmental changes. As such, Historic Charleston Foundation has advocated for the City’s Planning Commission and planning staff to start the 2020 rewrite with a clean slate and not draw from the tired template of the Century V Plan. While it was perhaps appropriate for the turn of the new millennium, we argue that our city needs a completely fresh approach to planning and land use. HCF feels strongly that the new comprehensive land use plan should be driven by living with water, the specter of sea level rise and overall livability for citizens. All planning elements should be addressed with those as guiding principles.

Further, HCF is advocating that all land use recommendations made in the Dutch Dialogues Charleston (DDC) report be integrated into the new comprehensive plan. That report divided the City into several study areas with recommendations developed specifically for each area. HCF feels strongly that specific recommendations must be included, such as zoning changes to avoid “fill and build” development, adjustments to entitlements, developing a city-wide water plan, and providing incentives for on-site water storage and infiltration.

HCF also believes that any comprehensive land use plan should include a Resiliency Element that considers the impacts of flooding, high water, and natural hazards on communities. As such, we have been working with City staff to include a resiliency element over and above what is required by the Act. Additionally, we have been advocating in the General Assembly in support of H.4731, legislation filed by Rep. Leon Stavrinakis and co-sponsored by Rep. William Cogswell, that would add resiliency as a mandated tenth planning element in the Comprehensive Land Use Planning Enabling Act. We believe this legislation is necessary to compel all neighboring jurisdictions to plan for resiliency. The City of Charleston can excel at resiliency planning, but our neighbors must do the same in order to reap the benefits of regional coordination on flooding issues.

The Planning Commission and City staff are in the nascent phase of developing the 2020 comprehensive plan. The necessary funds to underwrite developing the plan were included in the City budget passed last December and await necessary procurement approvals by City Council, which is expected to take place on May 12th. The current pandemic and subsequent “stay at home” ordinance have delayed the process somewhat, as the Planning Commission has not been able to meet and citizen input events and civic labs have not taken place. While the process has experienced some delays, City staff is doing the necessary work to support the Planning Commission and has been engaged in discussions with subject matter experts, consultants, and community advocates, like HCF.

The South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994 requires local governments to write and adopt comprehensive land use plans, sets forth a planning process, and identifies the specific elements a comprehensive plan must include. The Act charges local planning commissions with developing the comprehensive plan, which is then subject to approval by the elected governing body. It further requires local governments to rewrite their comprehensive plan every 10 years and to review it every five years.

Specifically, the Act requires local governments to include the following elements in their comprehensive plans:

  1. A Population Element – considers historic trends and projections, households, education levels and income characteristics
  2. An Economic Development element – considers labor force and characteristics, employment by place of work, and an analysis of the economic base
  3. A Natural Resources Element – considers coastal resources, agricultural and forest lands, habitats, parks and recreation, wetlands and scenic view sheds
  4. A Cultural Resources Element – considers historic buildings and structures, unique commercial and residential districts, scenic resources, archaeological sites, religious sites, and other facilities pertaining to cultural resources of a community
  5. A Community Facilities Element – considers water supply and treatment, sewage and wastewater treatment, solid waste, medical facilities, educational and library facilities, etc.
  6. A Housing Element – considers location, age and type of housing, owner vs. renter occupancy, housing affordability, analysis of non-essential housing regulatory requirements, and barriers and incentives to the development of affordable housing
  7. A Land Use Element – considers existing and future land use by category
  8. A Transportation Element – considers major road improvements, new road construction, transit, and bike-pedestrian options. All to be considered in coordination with the land use element.
  9. And a Priority Investment Element – analyzes likely federal, state and local funding sources and recommends projects for the expenditure of those funds. Must be done in coordination with neighboring jurisdictions and planning agencies.

The law further requires that each comprehensive plan element must include an inventory of existing conditions, a statement of needs and goals, and an implementation strategy with time frames. The Act sets forth these elements as minimal requirements; a jurisdiction can and should include more in their comprehensive plans in order to reflect the vision and priorities of the community.

City staff will likely begin engagement with citizens in the coming weeks in an online format that will follow a similar process as Plan West Ashley. Initial public engagement will set the framework for discussion and help to develop some guiding principles. Once public gathering restrictions are lifted or softened (hopefully) by this summer, City staff will organize forums and presentations to engage citizens and seek their input in a public meeting format. City staff and the Planning Commission are hopeful to have the 2020 comprehensive plan rewrite ready for presentation to City Council in December 2020 in compliance with state law. HCF is committed to ensuring that this critical process is not compressed in a manner that could impair the final product.

As a partner of the City in this process, HCF will remain engaged with the City staff and Planning Commission in developing the 2020 plan to ensure it reflects HCF’s goals and vision for Charleston. Additionally, we will be disseminating details via our newsletters, advocacy alerts and social media channels on public input opportunities for citizens to engage both online and eventually in person. While it appears at the moment that the time period for developing the 2020 comprehensive plan may be compacted, HCF remains committed to a robust level of public input, and we invite you to reach out to us at any time with your vision for how the next ten years in Charleston should take shape by emailing [email protected]

3 responses to “Comprehensive Planning 101”

  1. Lindsay W Marshall says:

    I really enjoyed reading about this 10 year rewrite from scratch, and would like information emailed to me as the planning process goes forward. My comment on land use is to tighten restrictions on fill and build. Marshes are storm mitigation help and no more marsh should be developed due to our flooding and sea level rise problems.

  2. As participant in the Dutch Dialogues I am glad to read that HCF advises to integrate the land use recommendations developed during the Dutch Dialogues Charleston into the new comprehensive plan.
    Indeed, this plan should be driven by living with water, the specter of sea level rise and overall livability for citizens.
    It is really necessary to develop a city-wide watermanagement plan, how can Charleston deal with the water, not only protect itself against the water, but also enjoy the water, take more benefit of the water?

  3. Tommie Robertson says:

    Please emphasize to ACE that not providing wall protection to the fully-developed High-density residential (340 homes), park, and tourist area extending between Union Pier and Columbus St. Terminal is a major mistake. This area includes: IAAM, aquarium, Fort Sumter tours, maritime center. Historic Gadsden Wharf, Irish Park, Gadsdenborough Park, and two multi-sort office buildings. This development represents huge value to the City in property tax revenue and in tourist and green space assets and must be protected by the ACE wall!

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