The Urban Growth Boundary is the single most important zoning tool that Johns Islanders have to manage growth and development on our Island.
What is an Urban Growth Boundary?
An Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is a tool that local governments can use to minimize urban sprawl. The UGB is basically a line on a map agreed to by local governments. Development inside the boundary (closer to the urban center of a city) is zoned for urban and suburban uses. Development outside the boundary (less densely populated areas) is zoned for rural uses.
This approach protects the rural character of the land outside the boundary for future generations. Even more importantly for the Lowcountry, the areas outside the UGB provide a natural protection barrier to resist the impact of hurricanes and flooding. While a UGB can help guide local zoning and land use patterns, UGB’s must be combined with additional ‘tools’ to effectively conserve natural habitats and protect the rural character of Johns Island.
What is the history of the UGB in Charleston County?
In the Charleston County 1999 Comprehensive Plan, a Suburban/Rural Area Edge was established as a tool to delineate the Rural Area from the Urban/Suburban Area. Over the years, the Suburban/Rural Area Edge came to be thought of as an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), recognized by the public, the municipalities in the County, and other service providers. The 2008 Comprehensive Plan Update reflected this change in thinking, identifying the delineating line as the Urban Growth Boundary.
Why is the UGB important for Johns Island?
The UGB restricts urban/suburban development to inside the UGB. This area consists of about 20% of the island. The area outside the UGB, about 80% of the island, is restricted to rural development. The benefits for keeping this 80% rural include:
What is the Zoning outside the UGB on Johns Island?
The vast majority of the land outside the UGB is zoned at a density of no more than 1 house per acre. The graphic below shows this zoning, where:
Note that if clustering is used where 50% of the land is conserved (this is called a Conservation Subdivision) or if a Planned Development is used then RR can have 1 house per acre and AG-8 can have 1 house per 4 acres.
Go to the Charleston County Graphical Information System (GIS) website for details.
County Zoning on Johns Island
Where is the UGB on Johns Island? Do I live inside or outside the UGB?
The diagrams below show the UGB on Johns Island.
On the upper part of Johns Island the UGB roughly follows a path from the Stono River to along Brownswood Road, Angel Oak Road, Bohicket Road, and Walter Drive then proceeds between Cane Slash and Plow Ground Roads to River Road and then south on River Road back to the Stono River just south of the Johns Island Airport (JZI)
The area inside the UGB is much smaller on the lower part of Johns Island. From Bohicket Creek the UGB proceeds along Haulover Creek, up Betsy Kerrison Parkway then circles around Kiawah River Estates and the Kiawah RIver development before going into the Kiawah River.
If you want further details or to find out where you live relative to the UGB, go to the Charleston County Graphical Information System (GIS) website. Select the layers icon (looks like a stack of paper) to add in the UGB and Municipal Boundaries to the maps.
The Urban Growth Boundary on Johns Island
Details of the UGB on Upper Johns Island
Details of the UGB on Lower Johns Island
So if I live in the CIty of Charleston I reside inside the UGB?
Not necessarily. Most of the City jurisdiction on Johns Island is within the UGB, but there are portions of the City that lie outside the UGB. These include Grimball Gates at Chisolm and Main Roads, the area around Angel Oak Elementary School and St John's High School, and several large parcels west of JZI. See the diagram below.
Likewise, if you live inside the UGB you may not live in the City due to all the "donut holes" of unincorporated parcels.
The CIty of Charleston on Johns Island
Has the location of the Urban Growth Boundary on Johns Island ever been changed?
According to the Charleston County Zoning and Planning Department, since the UGB was established in 1999 there have been three changes to the location of the UGB on Johns Island.
The first change was in 2003. The UGB was extended north beyond Brownswood Road. Fortunately, in 2004 County Council saw the errors of their ways and reversed this change. This was a case study of the impact of changing the UGB. It was during this short period that the Saint John’s Lakes development on Frickling Hill Road was approved. This resulted in an increase in allowed density from 1 house per 3 acres (RR) to 4 houses per acre (R-4). A 12-fold increase! Just imagine the impact on our Island if this were done elsewhere outside the UGB.
The second change occurred around 2009 at Kiawah River Plantation on Betsy Kerrison Parkway. The UGB was changed to go around Jacks Island. There were no changes in uses or net increases in allowed density.
The third set of changes occurred around 2014/2015 and were minor administrative changes. When the UGB was adopted in 1999 the County did not have a graphical information system (GIS). At that time the UGB was simply drawn on a map. As a result the UGB crossed property lines and did not follow geographical features. The administrative changes corrected these issues.
Unfortunately, developers keep trying to change the UGB to their benefit and residents must keep fighting to protect it. Fortunately, the City and County have sided with the community to prevent changes.
Should the UGB be formalized?
Yes. There is no interjurisdictional agreement that sets the location of the UGB in stone. Despite the protections put in place since 1999, Johns Island continues to feel pressure to expand the urban footprint.
An interjurisdictional agreement among the City of Charleston, Charleston County, and the he towns of Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island that would require all parties to agree to a change in the UGB would go a long way to ensuring the future of the UGB.
What else is preventing high density developments outside the UGB?
An agreement between the Charleston Water System and the St John's Water Company also helps to stop intensive development outside the UGB. The agreement restricts access to sewer to much of the area outside the UGB. You can view the agreement here and the map of the service area here.
What else is needed?
It is imperative for us as a community to seek additional ‘tools’ to enhance the protections that the UGB provides for our island. The tools to enhance the protection of our rural lands on the island include:
What can I do?
If you live inside the UGB be respectful of your rural neighbors. They hunt, they perform prescribed burns on their timberlands to prevent larger fires, and they have chickens that crow at four in the morning. That’s a small price to pay for the beauty of the island we call home.