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A Review of the I’On Village Master Plan 2009/12/09

Posted by erin in Land Use.
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New Urbanism is a contemporary movement in planning that promotes a vision of higher density, mixed-use development and transit- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. This style of development is also called Traditional Neighborhood Development, or TND for short. The movement came about in reaction to the negative results of suburban sprawl. As focus and desire has shifted away from sprawl and towards urban centers, this style of development has increased in popularity. One of the earliest Traditional Neighborhood Developments is I’On Village, located in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The plan was conceived in the early 1990s by a family team of developers. Although their original intentions for the plan embraced the ideas of sustainability, environmental protection, civic enhancement, walkability, and affordable housing, the final result did not achieve all of those goals. In their fight against sprawl, the developers ultimately had to make compromises, but the neighborhood still stands in stark contrast to the conventional suburban development surrounding it.

Before the idea of I’On was even born, the town of Mt. Pleasant developed policies to favor more progressive styles of development. Both the Master Plan (1992) and Strategic Plan (1994) encouraged TND-style development. Old Village, the historic area of Mt. Pleasant was an example of development that they praised in these Plans. They even suggested the site that I’On would later occupy would be a great spot for TND development. Despite approving these plans, no change was made to the zoning.

The founders went into the process thinking everything was properly aligned for success- it seemed like the town was on board, the location of the site was an ideal spot, they’d hire the best of the best and come up with a great plan. Their team consisted of such notable firms as DPZ, Dover Kohl, Gladding Jackson, etc. They ran a week-long charrettes in May of 1995, and from it developed a plan for a mixed-residential and mixed-land use project which included 800 single family lots, 440 multifamily units, 90,000 feet of commercial space and several civic sites. However, problems arose because the zoning regulations had never been changed for the area to accommodate the desired style of development. It was necessary for the team to apply for a change to the zoning.

The approval process was a long, drawn out roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. The plan had support from citizens and the Planning Board. However, the Town Council rejected the plan even after the development team re-structured the plan to be slightly less dense. After several rounds of changes, the Council finally approved the plan in March of 1997, and ground broke on the first house in 1998. However, a small group of disgruntled people gathered a petition, went to Town Council and asked them to overturn the approval or hold a referendum enabling citizens to vote on the zoning. The local court denied their case. They appealed all the way up to South Carolina Supreme Court.  Another year was wasted dealing with this, when finally in January of 2000 the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court’s ruling was appropriate- that a municipality couldn’t hold a referendum on zoning issues. Finally, things could proceed unhindered.

Although the final product of the plan was a watered-down version of the original vision, the neighborhood is wildly popular. The movement that the team pursued has helped to break down the socially constructed view that density is a danger to society. More and more projects are trying to mirror styles of new urbanist and TND design. These projects will be met with success if they stick to the basic tenants of urbanism: a mix of diverse land uses, housing types, and civic uses which all serve to enhance a sense of community and place.

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