As the Town of Summerville contemplates adoption of a new 10-year Comprehensive Plan, it faces a critical choice: Do we keep the unique, low density charm of a 19th century town, or do we add a new and higher mix of commercial and residential structures in our Historic District? Our current administrative and political officials are leaning toward the latter direction.
The Town Council has recently approved first reading of a plan, a legacy of a previous mayor, Bill Collins, that will completely overhaul our current zoning laws that separate residential from commercial areas. That plan, called the Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO), offers property owners and developers the incentive to combine the two forms along major transit routes and in the Historic District. Townhouses and condos will be encouraged where is now open space.
The concept of “mixed-use” is popular with urban planners to “build up, not out” to prevent urban sprawl. The idea is to increase density and “infill” vacant land to preserve open space surrounding the town with a “green belt.” Most cities adopting this concept, including Charleston, have adopted this plan. Our proposed UDO does not. It fails on two fronts; it fails to recognize that Summerville’s historic roots and appeal are based on its low density mix of unique pedestrian friendly shops and large-lot historic “cottages.” It also lacks any “greenbelt” element that would justify increased density downtown. Knightsville, Nexton and East Edisto will continue to squeeze us in every direction.
As a member of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee. I have spoken out against adopting any Plan and a UDO that will fundamentally change our Historic District. Mayor Johnson and Councilwoman Christine Czarnik have done so as well.
This November, Summervillians will go to the polls to vote on four of the seven Town Council seats, including mayor. Christine Czarnik is being challenged for her Historic District seat by former council member Terry Jenkins, who voted with Bill Collins for expanded development downtown. Council member Bill McIntosh is pushing for quick adoption of the UDO and will be challenged by Glenn Zingarino, who opposes adoption. Councilman Bob Jackson also is pushing for quick UDO adoption, but is unchallenged. The position of the leading mayoral candidates is unknown.
This November, residents will have the opportunity to vote to either protect and preserve our Historic District or continue on our path to overdevelopment.