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The Watch


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City Council Meeting, August 17

New Building Height Restrictions pass first reading
McLeod Plantation second hearing deferred
Marc Knapp who covers City Council

It was not a surprise. City Council passed the new building height restrictions for the Historic district. The restrictions were not contentious except for the Ansonborough Field area. Here the City wanted to increase the effective height to 70 ft as opposed to 55 ft, which broadly was the height restriction in other areas. The vote on Council was nearly identical to that taken over two years ago when the City first proposed the development of Ansonborough Field. Robert George and Kwadjo Campbell voted "against", and every body else "for". The exception was Wendell Gilliard who was absent last night.

Councilmember George seeks compromise
Councilmember George originally hoped that the Field would be retained as green space but if it were to be developed, he thought that a compromise would be better than that proposed. He suggested that the height limit be 55ft and no special allowance - of an extra 15 ft - be made for the FEMA designated flood plain. He argued that the existence of the FEMA regulation requiring no permanent fixtures on the ground floor was known from before the time of Hurricane Hugo and before the subsidized housing on the Field was removed. He claimed that at the Charette over two years ago, the City was aware of the FEMA regulations yet had assured participants that the building heights would be 3 to 4 stories, compatible with the 55 ft height limitation. To approve the new height restriction makes the Charette a sham. The City has misled the public.

Councilmember George also argued that there was no correlation with "activating" the street level and the need for another story. The City proposed to allow the ground floor to be used for retailing, food vending and other similar uses. To the extent the ground floor was utilized in this manner, the developers would be allowed to add another story which combined with elevator wells and air conditioning units, could make up a maximum of 50% of a building's footprint. He argued that "activation" could be done with a 55 ft height limit. He also suggested that the condition, of having a commitment from the developer of a ground floor use to allow construction to 70 ft, was a lawsuit begging to happen. A developer may make this promise but can it be enforced over the years? Once a building is built, that is that!

Mayor adamantly opposes a compromise
The height limit of 55 ft for the Field area was adamantly opposed by the Mayor and by a number of other Councilmembers, though Councilmember Shirley seemed swayed for a period. Councilmember Fishburne who represents the major part of the Ansonborough Area voted against the compromise and for the new height restriction. He argued that too many variances were given to buildings in the area and that a fresh set of regulations was needed. Interestingly Councilmember Campbell who also represents part of the Ansonborough area voted for the compromise and against the new height restrictions. His reason was that the residents opposed the City's plans. Councilmember Fishburne seemingly chose to ignore the strong opposition to the new height restrictions from Ansonborough residents.

Historic Foundation endorses changes
To give them more legitimacy, the new regulations bore the imprimatur of the Historic Foundation. A letter from Mr.Jonathan Poston was noted and distributed. Mr. Poston is Director of Preservation Initiatives at the Foundation. He along with the Board of Trustees endorsed the new height regulations and stated that the changes " are well reasoned, logical and creative and ones which will better protect sensitive areas of the lower city." Interestingly a member of the audience asked what caused Mr. Poston's change of heart? In 2000, at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting where the Vendue Range development downtown was discussed, an 8ft variance allowing a building of 58ft drew his ire . "The city's visual appearance from the harbor is being polluted. All you have to do is look at the Cooper River waterfront and there's nothing there but modern condominium buildings. It obscuring the character of the city." Yet today a building of 70 ft receives Mr Poston's enthusiastic support. Strange!

So, what does the City propose to build on the Field? Nothing is yet certain but the Mayor said the structures would cater to a mix of uses - retail, a small hotel, housing and affordable housing. Councilmember Lewis, a consistent advocate for affordable housing, was rather cynical about the possibility of anything affordable on the Field.

The height restrictions now have to go through another 2 readings before being adopted. My guess that it is a done deal!

McLeod Plantation - second reading deferred
The contentious issue of using the McLeod Plantation as the new location for the School of Building Arts was deferred last night. Notwithstanding, a number of people turned up to speak against the proposal.