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Charleston County Zoning

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Johns Island issue simmers

Rezoning requests add new wrinkle to debate over urban-rural division

BY ROBERT BEHRE

Of The Post and Courier Staff

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The debate about whether 2,500 acres on Johns Island should remain urban or be changed back to rural has evolved into three separate but related issues.

The change shows the financial stakes that are involved in developing the island area bordered by the Stono River and Main, Patton, Fickling Hill and Brownswood roads.

Last year, Charleston County Council moved this land from its rural zone to its urban one. Many residents expressed surprise at the change, and more than 100 of them petitioned council to undo the move.

In February, council took an initial vote to grant them their wish, but at Councilman Fran Roberts' request, council delayed a second vote.

Now, representatives of two large undeveloped chunks in the area have filed rezoning requests that would lock in their rights to develop the land.

Planning Director Jennifer Miller said the requests were filed by landowner Chuck Bennett and by developer Charles Huff of Special Properties, which is looking at a 300-acre tract off Fickling Hill.

Regardless of what council does with moving the line, those two rezoning requests will be considered with the urban designation, which would favor more intense development.

Those requests are scheduled to go before the county's Planning Commission later this month and then will be decided by full council, Miller said.

That means the larger issue of development in the area will be decided by votes on at least three separate ordinances.

As far as the line change goes, council's Planning and Public Works committee discussed it Thursday and voted 3-1 to keep the line where it is, leaving the affected area in the urban zone.

After the vote, there was some confusion as to whether full council still would vote Tuesday on moving the line. County Attorney Joe Dawson said it would, essentially rendering the committee vote useless.

"It's a bureaucratic nightmare," said Bennett, who attended Thursday's meeting. "Nobody understands what they're doing up there, and neither do I."

The three members opposing the line change Thursday have opposed it in the past, but they were on the short end of the earlier 5-4 vote. Council members Curtis Bostic, Carolyn Conlon, A.D. Jordan, Leon Stavrinakis and Charles Wallace have supported changing the 2,500 acres back to a rural zone, while Chairman Barrett Lawrimore, Ed Fava, Tim Scott and Roberts wanted it to remain urban.

Roberts said Thursday he has received petition packets from both sides, and "I think if I put the two together, the ones who want it to stay the same (as urban) pull my hand down a little bit harder."

But Sam Brownlee, a Johns Island resident, said he has seen both petitions and the one to keep it rural is signed by 150 affected property owners, far more than the other.

Megan Terebus of the Coastal Conservation League agreed. "If they have more signatures than that, it's not more affected property owners."

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