Area flooding has steadily garnered more attention from community leaders and experts | Jonathan Boncek file photo

The City of Charleston is in the process of forging a new comprehensive 10-year city plan, and city leaders are weighing changes and suggestions based on land and water analysis and other flooding data. 

Changes and proposals primarily revolve around rezoning the greater Charleston area based on elevation, hydrology and flood-risk data research. Those behind the proposals hope the changes will highlight parts of the city that are most vulnerable to tidal flooding and stormwater, as well as identify other areas better suited for future dense development. 

“This is a complete rethinking of the future of the city of Charleston,” planning director Robert Summerfield said during the June 30 joining workshop between City Council and the city’s planning commission. “The approach this team has taken — the very concept of addressing land use and future development based on sea level rise and the impact of uncertain weather conditions caused by climate change — these are things the rest of the country, even other coastal communities — they’re not there yet. This community, this city, is leading on that thinking.”

The 88-page Charleston City Plan addresses existing conditions, community priorities and recommendations for nine distinct elements: 

• Population 
• Natural resources
• Cultural resources
• Economic development
• Transportation
• Community facilities and priority investment
• Housing
• Land use
• Resilience and equity

The plan cites research conducted by a number of institutions in Charleston and abroad, including the city-commissioned Dutch Dialogues reports and a racial disparities study conducted by the Avery Institute in 2015.

However, with information drawn from so many different places, some are seeing gaps in the planning process that they say should be filled. 

“Criminal justice and criminal justice reform was a major portion of that disparity study,” Charleston City Councilman Dudley Gregorie said during the meeting. “The study clearly talks about that system and how it has been negative in many ways toward certain populations. So my question is: Is there a reason why we excluded certain things like public safety?”

“I see it as a major part of any comprehensive plan that is being done through an equity lens,” he said. “Somehow, this should talk about how we are going to do things to foster greater and better relationships with our public safety department.”

The plan primarily focuses on how city government should operate, but equity was a high priority in its development, according to Summerfield. 

“The community has already been dealing with the ramifications of not paying close enough attention to under-represented communities, but then that responsiveness within this plan to equity and social injustice that’s been highlighted over the last year and a half,” he said. “That has gone into this plan. And that’s different from what’s come before it.”

The majority of the two-hour workshop, however, focused on affordable housing and commercial development.

“There is no city in the state that’s doing a better job at running a housing and community development department than the City of Charleston,” Councilman Ross Appel said during the workshop. “We are leading the way in city-sponsored, city-backed, city-funded, city-incentivized affordable housing.”

But, he said that it would be extremely difficult for the city to reach its 2030 goal of building 16,000 new affordable housing units in Charleston by 2030, an average increase of 94 units per year. And, he said, the actual number of needed affordable housing units is probably much higher. 

“It’s a supply-and-demand problem,” he said. “We have to get more supply on the market, and it’s got to come in all forms. It’s that data point, that … there’s only so many affordable housing units the City of Charleston can bring on board.”

“We have a pricing problem,” he continued. “In any other market … If there’s a pricing problem, you have to find what’s wrong with that to find why there’s a supply and demand distortion.”

Appel said the problem is far beyond Charleston, and that it will take time for the housing market here and abroad to heal. 

Commercially, areas along upper King and Meeting streets were designated by city leaders as ripe for dense development moving forward, as well as land along Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley; areas on Maybank Highway on James and Johns islands; and properties along Interstate 526 and Clements Ferry Road on Daniel Island. 

The Charleston City Plan is not a legally binding document, but it has influence on laws and regulations made by city leaders. Charleston City Council is expected to take a vote on the new plan this summer, and more changes are expected to come. 

The most recent version of the draft can be found online at charlestoncityplan.com.