Since taking over as mayor of Mount Pleasant, Will Haynie has dealt with issues ranging from school safety to traffic congestion, drainage, short-term rentals and protecting the environment. The most important subject in his ever-expanding in-basket, however, is growth management, the issue that has helped remake the composition of the Town Council during the past two election cycles.
“Growth management is what we hear about most from our citizens,” said Haynie, who served on the Council for two years before defeating incumbent Mayor Linda Page in November 2017. “We’ve basically cut growth in half. We’ve delivered on the promises we made to the people who put us in office.”
Haynie pointed out that Mount Pleasant’s 3.47-percent-a-year average growth is unsustainable unless the town intends to ask its residents to pay more in property taxes. He said that over the past four years, calls for public services have skyrocketed from 5,000 to 17,000 annually, while the Police and Fire departments are facing similar increases in their daily interactions with the people of Mount Pleasant.
Haynie and the other eight members of the Town Council are dealing with the growth issue by limiting building within the town limits. There’s already a moratorium on new apartments, and a permit allocation plan that went into effect Jan. 9 caps the number of permits issued for single-family homes, town houses and condominiums at only 600 per year. Those numbers don’t apply to Carolina Park and Liberty Hill, where the town already had agreements in place with the developers.
Mount Pleasant also is limiting the number of permits available to each developer.
“You can buy a house, tear it down and rebuild, and that doesn’t count against the 600 permits. And the most one builder can have per year is 25 permits. That will cut down on building as many houses as you can while the market is hot,” Haynie said.
The ordinance establishing the permit allocation plan has a five-year shelf life, but Haynie pointed out that “we can adjust it as the Council sees fit.”
Another way the Council has limited commercial and residential building is by passing a huge increase in impact fees that went into effect in 2017 and 2018. The initial vote on the increase was taken before Haynie was elected mayor. The town uses impact fees from developers to pay for costs in areas such as recreation, transportation and fire protection.
The mayor pointed out that Mount Pleasant also is limiting wholesale clearing of land, requiring developers to provide buffers between commercial projects and residential neighborhoods and designating which trees can be removed and how they must be replaced.
As important as growth management has been to Haynie, it’s not the only subject that crosses his busy desk. As chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, he has been dealing with the seemingly endless issue of how to ease the traffic problem on the busy stretch of Highway 41 that runs from Highway 17 to the Berkeley County line. Several options are out there, including expanding the two-lane road to four lanes right through Phillips, an African-American community, and taking part of the corridor through Park West.
“Highway 41 is a state road and a county project that needs federal approval,” Haynie said. “All we can do is push for the best of the options, but we can’t narrow it down to one alternative. That will keep us from getting NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) approval. It can jeopardize the whole project if we have only one option.”
The mayor said Charleston County will make the final decision on the project, which isn’t expected to be completed until 2025, but that “we’re doing everything to be able to determine our own destiny on this.”
The town also is working to solve drainage problems in Snee Farm and in Old Mount Pleasant and parts of the Old Village.
Another important issue facing Haynie and the Council is school safety. In response to the shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a lone gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, the Council voted to spend around $750,000 to put a school resource officer at every elementary school in Mount Pleasant. The high school and middle schools already had this layer of protection provided by the Charleston County School District.
“They are trained to look for signs of distress among students, even social issues that can lead to bigger problems,” Haynie said. “They are trained in everything that has to do with the well-being of students, and they are there whenever the students are there.”
He added that another reason to have a Mount Pleasant police officer at each elementary school is “to help students understand that our police are an asset to the community and that there shouldn’t be any tension between the community and the people who lay their life on the line for us every day.”
The Council has also laid the groundwork for developing regulations for short-term rental properties. Haynie said the rules for Airbnbs and VRBOs will be sensible and easy to comply with. The Council is currently studying ordinances around the country to see what has worked and what hasn’t.
“Right now, it’s harder on people who live here than on people from outside who buy a house and rent it out,” the mayor commented.
Under Haynie’s watch, the town also adopted the emergency-management plan established by Amanda Knight, Mount Pleasant’s emergency manager since September 2017. The plan came in handy when the James B. Edwards Bridge over the Wando River was temporarily shut down in May 2018.
And last, but certainly not least, Haynie and the Council passed an ordinance that is expected to help control or even eliminate the plastic and Styrofoam waste that tends to end up in the Lowcountry’s rivers, creeks, marshes and, eventually, in the ocean. As of April of this year, businesses no longer will be able to use plastic straws, single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam and polystyrene disposable food packages. The Environmentally Acceptable Packaging Products Ordinance was spearheaded by Councilman Jim Owens.
Despite all the issues he’s had to face as mayor of Mount Pleasant, Will Haynie appears to be enjoying his job – up to a point. There is one issue that continues to gnaw at him.
“There is no way yet I have found that I can personally return every email and phone call,” he said. “There are 87,000 people in Mount Pleasant and one of me. I would like to personally address every call and email, but I have to pass them on and have them addressed by people whose job it is to handle these issues.”
“But I enjoy the job very much,” he said. “Serving as mayor of Mount Pleasant is probably the highest privilege and honor of my life. It’s been a demanding, rewarding and amazing year.” “That is not a re-election announcement,” he added.
By Brian Sherman