Mount Pleasant has experienced explosive growth with the related challenges of increased traffic, demand for scarce land, and changes in the demographics of the town. These potentially contentious topics were made more difficult by the complex and confusing planning and zoning processes that govern development. As communication with residents has increasingly moved from face-to-face interactions to online, the space for discussion and learning about these tough issues has decreased.
Traditional efforts like town hall meetings were simply not working – meetings were sparsely attended while there continued to be a growing outcry from the public regarding development. In 2010, Mount Pleasant and its Planning Department recognized that the existing methods for sharing information and involving citizens in the decision-making process were impersonal and unappealing to most citizens and were no longer adequate. Interpersonal communication, a key component in community relationships, was missing. To citizens, the Planning Department staff had become less accessible and more bureaucratic, existing only as the invisible authors behind the impersonal email responses.
Project Summary and Engagement Strategies:
The Planning Public Outreach Program started with a meet and greet – an event inviting citizens to learn more about relevant planning matters such as the comprehensive plan, flood zone information, zoning rules, and the tree ordinance. Beyond providing information, the goal of the meet and greet was to provide an opportunity to reconnect citizens with their planning staff. The event continues to grow and meeting locations for the annual event are changed every year to encourage citizens living in all areas of town to attend. This year’s meet and greet included youth-focused activities where students could participate in a scavenger hunt to learn more about the choices facing the community.
The meet and greet provides a high-level review of planning, but planners recognized the need for another level of engagement allowing citizens to dive deeper into the key issues.
The Citizens Planning College launched in 2013, offering weekly classes taught by planning staff and designed for engaged citizens. Planning College consists of ten classes and is divided into two semesters. The first semester focuses on laws governing planning and zoning, land development processes, building codes, and zoning districts. Guided by planning staff, the second semester requires participants to take a fictitious development project through the public approval process. Participants are provided with a map of a vacant parcel and the parameters to include residential density, open space requirements, tree protection requirements, road width standards, and zoning criteria and are then directed to create a new residential subdivision using the provided guidelines. Both the planning staff and class participants found this exercise to be engaging and informative. Many participants hailed the Planning College as an eye-opening experience enabling them to understand the complexities and layers of regulations involved in the planning process.
Another audience, local professional engineers and architects, were engaged through Code for Lunch. During this quarterly event, participants enjoy lunch, catered by a local business, while planning staff reviews new or pending regulation changes. After lunch, the group shares new ideas, answers questions, and holds candid conversations about development standards and on-going projects. Town staff use this as a chance to solicit input from the group.
Staff works to design programs and opportunities tailored to each audience. This was demonstrated by this year’s addition to the annual meet and greet. Seeking to include younger citizens in the event, planning staff designed a scavenger hunt that would not only engage younger generations, but also teach them age-appropriate and relevant information. Children are required to visit each station at the meet and greet, speaking to planners in order to answer questions and successfully complete the scavenger hunt. Successful completion earned young citizens a pass to the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum and the U.S.S. Yorktown. Planning staff also partnered with local high school students to design and print the Planning Department’s Annual Report, a document which provides statistics and information about the department’s work from the previous year.
In 2016 Mount Pleasant’s Planning Outreach Program was awarded the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s Achievement Award in Communications for its innovative programming.
Mount Pleasant, SC– 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation
Mount Pleasant Assistant Town Administrator and former Planning Director
Town of Mount Pleasant
100 Ann Edwards Lane
Mount Pleasant, SC 29464