The supposed 880 housing developments that were part of the original Vision Plan for Summerville have been removed from the plan.
Mayor Bill Collins said the decision came after hearing multiple concerns from residents speaking out about the Vision Plan at the previous council meeting and public hearing in June. These residents brought up worries about where the possible 880 new housing developments would go, how they would affect downtown Summerville’s small-town charm, how much noise they would create and how much traffic they would reel into the area.
“The plan as approved, those 880 (units) are not in there, and to begin with those 880 were what could be built under existing zoning,” Collins said. “There’s no number in the plan.”
Fourteen residents took the podium June 16 to voice their opinions about Summerville’s Vision Plan. Out of those who spoke, Collins said he counted five residents with overall concerns, but he felt the public hearing was mostly positive.
One resident questioned how the town was planning to pay for so much housing – whether by raising taxes or creating a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.
Collins said the town has no plans for a TIF.
“It’ll depend on the project and what council can agree to do,” he said. “It (a TIF) would have to be approved by council and with specifics – we don’t have that yet because this is but a plan.”
Collins said the Vision Plan is stretched over the course of 26 years. Anything that any council does will have to go through approval.
Items included in the Vision Plan were based off ideas provided by 500 residents who participated in a weeklong planning charette held in February.
“This plan is a result from the input of 500 interested Summerville residents who came and said, ‘These are the kinds of things we would like to see in this town over the next 25-50 years,’” Collins said.
The final version of the Vision Plan is on the town of Summerville’s website. Collins calls the original version a “draft” for which residents could provide input. As a result of that public input the change was made to take out the 880 housing development ideas.
“That change really is insignificant because it was nothing but an inventory number — it didn’t mean anybody was going to build anything,” Collins said. “It was what could be built under 2014 zoning regulations.”
The town has already agreed to do $2,000 worth of infrastructure improvement in Hutchinson Square. Part of the Vision Plan includes making upgrades to the square but there are no immediate plans — Collins said that is “years away.”
“But that is something that we heard a lot of people say – ‘We would love to see Hutchinson Square become more user-friendly, because downtown is such a beautiful place,’” Collins said. “It’s just time for an update, but going forward I don’t know when that will happen.”
Collins said no Vision Plan project in particular is at “the top of the list” for the town. If the costs of all the proposed ideas were to be added up the total would accumulate to “billions of dollars.”
“We have to do what we can pay for,” Collins said, adding one thing he is already excited about is the Leadership Dorchester class taking on the Sawmill Branch Trail for improvements. Another group, he said, recently e-mailed him with interest in rebuilding and placing the “Summerville” arch back over Main Street.
“A lot of people in the public are interested in doing things,” Collins said.
Although the 880 housing units are no longer part of the Vision Plan, Collins said he would still like to see some new housing developments in downtown, perhaps high rises on vacant property, possibly off Cedar Street and Main Street. Zoning is already in place to build such entities, Collins said.
The Vision Plan, Collins said, is meant to promote business in Summerville and keep residents wanting to live in the area.
“We want people not to have to get into cars and drive down the interstate to get to Charleston to work,” he said. “We want to have job opportunities here.”