Coleman Boulevard isn't what it used to be.

Old Mount Pleasant's main thoroughfare has always been commercial, but these days there is just so much more - restaurants, coffee shops, upscale boutiques.

It's getting to be too much "more," some residents say.

The town has put a median in parts of Coleman, and officials are talking about a parking garage near Shem Creek.

A parking garage.

The focal point of all this is "The Boulevard," a four-story complex of apartments, shops, offices and restaurants that stretches from the very edge of Coleman all the way back to the houses of Old Mount Pleasant.

Six years ago, town officials approved this overlay district for Coleman. The idea was to cut down on sprawl by creating density - an activity area where folks could walk or ride bikes to shop and work.

Some people say they wanted it to become Mount Pleasant's Main Street, that city fathers were inspired by downtown Greenville.

Trouble is, Greenville is a city.

Mount Pleasant is still allegedly a "town."

Sprawling debate

On Friday, Town Council's Planning Committee met to try to address some of these concerns.

Upwards of 60 people crammed into the small meeting room. They didn't gripe much - these folks are becoming all too accustomed to being piled up on top of one another.

They are concerned about the density of all this development, say it's out of character with the town they love, where they grew up. Even former Gov. James B. Edwards and his wife, Ann, sat through the nearly three-hour meeting to voice their frustrations.

In one sentence, the governor summed up the feelings of the entire audience.

"This is the most wonderful place on Earth to live," he said, "and I don't want to see it go to rack and ruin."

This overlay district has landed at the doorstep of Old Village residents like Edwards. Most are concerned about the Earl's Court development - a collection of more than two dozen houses on less than two acres. They say the development is out of character, that it's so jammed in there they fear it won't meet city setback requirements.

After a long and tedious review of the overlay district - a "filibuster," resident George Debnam called it - the committee did agree to recommend that the full council adopt some changes to the overlay district - more parking requirements, larger setbacks, more space between structures.

Councilman Elton Carrier says all those things will go toward lowering the density. His proposal to cap buildings at two stories instead of three would have done that too, but the committee didn't agree.

Carrier says the overlay district was drawn too close to the Old Village, but the only thing the town can do now is mitigate the impact of any future development. Ultimately, he says the plan is sound, and necessary.

"This is all about preventing sprawl," he says. "We've got a lot of people coming to Mount Pleasant and we've got to find a place to put them."

More traffic?

Councilman Gary Santos tried to get a moratorium on Coleman Boulevard building permits last month, but council wouldn't even discuss it.

Santos says the idea of a downtown-style walking district where people live and work and play is not nearly as plausible as planners say it is. The only jobs within walking distance of The Boulevard development are in retail and restaurants, and those workers can't pay rents that range from $975 to $2,600 a month.

"You can't afford to live there by ringing up cash registers," Santos says.

Traffic, he says, is only going to get worse as a result.

More than a decade ago, Mount Pleasant started growing north, and most folks in old town were fine with Towne Centre becoming the new town center.

But growth is rampant everywhere in the state's fourth-largest municipality; that's just the way it is. And as much as some folks would like to raise the drawbridge, that's not going to happen.

The town had to address its monumental growth, and it's good that the town fathers have their eyes on sprawl. But they also need to listen to these folks who love this town. They make good points. And this is the best one:

The town needs to make sure this new Mount Pleasant doesn't destroy Old Mount Pleasant.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com