Summerville Town Council buys time to address development ordinances

Summerville Town Council members Christine Czarnik, from left, Walter Bailey and Kima Garten-Schmidt during a special called meeting on July 16. 

The Summerville Town Council is taking action to shield the town’s R-2 single-family residential zoning classification from unwanted development.

During a special called meeting on Tuesday, council members voted 5-2 to pass first reading of an ordinance that places a 90-day moratorium on the subdivision of a tract of land into five or more parcels.

Town Attorney G.W. Parker said the move was not aimed at any particular developer.

“It is about addressing concerns about losing the historic charming nature of Summerville and protecting the R-2 zoning classification so council can have time to make sure that what they’re doing is the right thing,” Parker said.

The step comes after public outcry over a proposed rental property subdivision in the Germantown area of Summerville. Several residents from that area were present at the meeting. Resident Karen Meehan, who lives near Shepard Avenue, asked the council if a community of rental homes will one day become the norm in Summerville.

Resident Kevin Szostak also addressed the town council. He said he was representing his own opinion while speaking on the issue of a moratorium.

The idea of a moratorium “has the potential to create a stain on a community’s image,” he said, by potentially creating economic impacts that are lasting both for home development and other developments. He also expressed doubt that 90 days would be enough time for council members to complete its work on updated the Unified Development Ordinance, considering the council's history with the ordinance.

Council members Walter Bailey and Bob Jackson were opposed to the idea of a moratorium.

Bailey said that while some builders are creating “substandard houses that barely meet building codes,” a moratorium is not the answer.

“We can’t stop certain types of development but what we can do is pave the path to requiring better design guidelines, better subdivision regulations and fewer houses per lot,” Bailey said.

A moratorium tells people that Summerville is closed for business, he said.

Councilman Bill McIntosh said a moratorium of 90 days that is “targeted very carefully may overcome — or hopefully would overcome — the concerns that it sends a message that Summerville is closed for business.”

“We have become the path of least resistance in Dorchester County in particular… where these tract builders want to quickly slap up as many houses as they possibly can and then get out as quickly as they can,” McIntosh said.

Mayor Wiley Johnson said some might call the town’s current ordinances antiquated. He said there are a number of studies and projects going on at the moment-including the update of the town’s UDO- that have a bearing on the issues at hand.

“We have so many things coming together at one time that we need to sit back, take a breath and consider what we need to do going forward,” Johnson said.

The ordinance to place a 90-day moratorium on the subdivision of a tract of land into five or more parcels will face a public hearing and planning commission before town council considers second reading.