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Green space - Can we take Mayor Riley seriously?

Warwick Jones, Editor

"In the blink of an eye, we could destroy an irreplaceable natural area or allow a use which irresponsibly changes a special place. Therefore we must be more prepared than ever. We must have a community vision and sound proactive initiatives in place. All developments and physical changes in our community must pass two fundamental tests. First, is what is planned excellent? Is it the best it can be? If the answer is no, it shouldn't be done. Second, will what is being proposed be useful and celebrated from 50 to 100 years from now? if the answer is no, it must not be allowed. We don't have to make compromises in quality now, if ever we did." Mayor Riley. 2000 Inaugural Address

Mayor Riley has made a lot of noise in the past about Charleston's need for green space. Actually we have press clippings that go back to 1975 where he is quoted about the need. There also was a charette the City organized on parks and green space a month or so after the charette on Ansonborough Field. I suppose that this was some sort of palliative for us who resented the loss of Ansonborough Field, or a large part of it, to the developer's hoe.

Well, here we are a couple of years after the Ansonborough Field and Parks and Green Space charettes. There has been no addition to green space and indeed, it seems we are about to lose some. The City is planning to raise height restrictions at Ansonborough Field and will move forward with development when the new height restrictions are passed into law. And the City is giving up the McLeod Plantation. Here was an opportunity to add significantly to green space, but it has been missed for reasons that are hard to grasp. The City says that it would make a fine home for the American School of Building Arts (SOBA). Others say no. The School could be located elsewhere. We are about to lose a unique valuable property, one that is a significant part of the heritage of Charleston.

I have to confess that I did not know of the existence of McLeod until the issue blew up a few weeks ago. Seems a lot of other folk didn't know of its existence either. I also was surprised that the property has been controlled by the Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF). The Foundation was also responsible for consolidating the ownership of the Plantation, a formidable task considering the dispersion of ownership over the years.

I am a fan of the Foundation and believe that it has done an excellent job in helping preserve historic properties in Charleston. However, I also recognize that many of the Trustees and executives of the HFC are close to Mayor Riley. To what extent if any Mayor Riley leaned on the HCF to sell to SOBA, I don't know. But the sale seems to be out of character with HCF. Sure the buildings and grounds will have covenants which HCF tells us will ensure any development will be in keeping with the buildings. But is this enough?

McLeod represents nearly 40 acres of green space, and in an area where green space is sorely needed. It is in West Ashley, abutting the river and within easy driving distance of the Peninsula. It is hard to imagine where green space could be better placed.

HCF possibly wanted rid of McLeod because of its financial burden. We doubt that this was high but a full restoration of the grounds and houses may have been. But then the City's motives must be questioned. Why didn't it buy, or acquire the property? The $850,000 sales price is not high and even if the subsequent restoration costs were some millions of dollars, so what? Do you think the cost of buying property to convert to green space is going to be cheap? For such a property so close to the City, the sales price and subsequent restoration costs would have been a bargain. And who knows, the Plantation if it were made a tourist attraction, may have paid for itself.

Is the City trying to protect the Plantations further along the Ashley from more competition? Does it really think that the utilization by SOBA is the best use the property? All I can say, for a mayor who keeps on saying he wants to add to the City's green space, he has passed up on a great opportunity. Residents are entitled to ask why?

And if the City will pass on an acquisition like Mc Leod, why bother voting for the sales tax in the coming referendum? It seems the City does not know what it is about or has some other agenda!

The issue of the McLeod Plantation was to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals- Zoning earlier this week, but was deferred. The Board has to approve the exception to allow the school facility to be included in the School Overlay Zoned District. It will probably be placed on the agenda for the next Board meeting, most likely August 17. We suspect there will be a large attendance.

Your Comments:

The current FEMA FIRM map applicable to Ansonboro Field is dated November 5,1986, three years BEFORE HUGO. So much for the Planning Department's argument that recent changes in the flood zone elevations have driven the need to add a 5th floor to the proposed development on Ansonboro Field.

All of the Field is in a "V-7, Elev. 16" Zone; this means that the bottom of the lowest structural member must be 17 feet above MSL. The average elevation of the Field is below 7.0 MSL.

Posted by: Bob George at August 15, 2004 02:37 PM