Position Statement on Impact Fees

The Johns Island Council1 recognizes that restrictions on land development, while generally opposed by the development community, are essential to maintaining the quality of life on Johns Island. The Johns Island Council further recognizes that such restrictions produce a substantial burden on private property ownership. As such, land use planning on Johns Island must necessarily involve an appropriate balancing of interests.

The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)2 manifests an attempt to balance the interests of owners, developers, and conservationists. Even the best plan, however, will fail to achieve the desired result if there is no mechanism for uniform enforcement. As long as nearby municipalities are allowed to annex and rezone land anywhere on Johns Island whenever a developer wishes to avoid the requirements of the UDO, the plan will do nothing to contain sprawl.

We believe that one of the most effective and equitable means of preventing sprawl is the levying of development impact fees.3 Clearly, it is unfair for owners of large undeveloped tracts to subdivide and sell their land at a premium, saddling the rest of the community with the cost of expanding and improving its infrastructure to accommodate new development.

It is not enough for the developer of a 500-lot subdivision off of River Road or Chisolm Road to pay for the new roads within the subdivision itself. Such a project should carry the requirement of a substantial contribution toward improvement of existing roads and bridges on Johns Island. If appropriate foresight were applied to land use planning, impact fees collected from developers could be used to reserve land for future road construction by the purchase of development rights.

Using impact fees in this manner not only serves to discourage heedless development, but allows cost effective expansion of infrastructure as well. Impact fees should support not only roads, but also water supply, sewage treatment, and school construction. Again, it is not enough for the developer of a large subdivision to simply tie into existing water and sewer lines. There should be a significant contribution toward expanding the capacity of the existing systems.

The Johns Island Council recommends the levying of development impact fees to pay for road improvements, water and sewage expansion, construction of new school facilities, and any other public facilities that would be impacted by future development on Johns Island. Although a comprehensive plan involving all municipal governments on Johns Island would be the most desirable approach to implementing development impact fees, the authorization of fees by individual government entities is nevertheless a step forward. The government entities that collect impact fees should maintain accounting information as required by applicable law, and make this information readily available to the public.


  1. This position statement was originally adopted by the Johns Island Council in 2006. The notes that appear here were compiled in 2016 and updated in 2023.
  2. The South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994, SC Code 6-29-310 et seq, sets out specific uniform requirements for counties and municipalities to develop comprehensive plans and enact unified development ordinances to implement their plans.

    The City of Charleston adopted its Comprehensive Plan, the Century V Plan, in 2000. The updated Century V Plan was approved in 2011. An online codification of the City's Unified Development Ordinance, the Zoning Ordinance of Charleston, South Carolina, was first published in 1997 and republished in 1999, 2005, and 2016.

    Charleston County first adopted its Comprehensive Plan in 1999, reviewed in 2003, updated in 2008, reviewed in 2013-2014, and updated in 2019. Charleston County's Unified Development Ordinance, the Zoning and Land Development Regulations Ordinance (ZLDR), was first adopted in 2001 and has been amended numerous times since.

  3. See SC Code 6-1-910 et seq, South Carolina Development Impact Fee Act. A copy of the act with editorial notes and references to case law and Attorney General's opinions is included in Revenue Resources For County Government, 2016 Edition, published by the South Carolina Association of Counties. An additional note and reference is included in the 2022 Supplement.

    In a court case interpreting the South Carolina Development Impact Fee Act, Charleston Trident Home Builders v. Town of Summerville (SC Supreme Court, 2006), Charleston Trident Home Builders challenged a development impact fee ordinance enacted by the Town of Summerville. The challenge was initially heard by a Dorchester County Master-in-Equity. Trident alleged that Summerville's comprehensive plan, capital improvements plan, and calculation of impact fees did not meet the specific requirements prescribed in the Development Impact Fee Act. The Master ruled in favor of the Town, finding not only that the ordinance did meet the statutory requirements, but that Trident had no standing to challenge the ordinance and that it was required to exhaust its administrative remedies before bringing the action. On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that Trident did have standing and was not required to first exhaust its administrative remedies, but it affirmed the rest of Master's ruling. The Town had hired a consulting firm to prepare a feasibility study for impact fees, and had incorporated the consultant's report by reference into its capital improvements plan. The Town had also developed a Comprehensive Plan, distinct from its capital improvements plan. The court considered the alleged deficiencies in the Town's capital improvements plan and found them to be in substantial compliance with the statutory requirements. The court ruled that the Town's having a Comprehensive Plan could not cause it to be subjected to more stringent requirements for its capital improvements plan. Finally, the court considered several details relating to the calculation of impact fees and found the calculation in the ordinance sufficient, noting that "Trident offers no analysis of the various factors challenged that would actually result in different fees." The court's analysis offers useful guidance for other local government entities considering development impact fees.