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Senator Ford Speaks Out - If the Neck is developed, the residents must be protected

Warwick Jones, Editor

The potential development of the Neck Area has received a lot of press in recent months. As presently conceived, the development will be very large and re-vitalize a depressed and neglected part of Charleston. The city, which is encouraging the private developers, feels it will be an excellent project. It gave the nod to the development at the last meeting of Council. In discussing the Neck, the majority of speakers including the mayor, exuded good feelings about the development. Only one council member, Wendell Gilliard, expressed reservations. His was the only dissenting vote on approving the broad terms of the development.

But there are many others that are expressing reservations. And although these folk may not be totally opposed to the development, they are concerned and want a voice in shaping it. Many of these voices are in the residential communities that lie within the Neck area or on its perimeter. Most of these communities are African American.

A letter was sent to community leaders and others by Senator Robert Ford who represents the area in the State Senate. The letter is shown below. Senator Ford is concerned about the provision for "affordable housing" and the need to look after the people that may be affected by the development.

State Senator Robert Ford
Senate District 42

Project designated to destroy nineteen predominantly black neighborhoods in the Charleston Neck area

Potential profits are large and a provision is deserved
The developers of the Neck stand to make substantial profits and can well afford to make a provision for "affordable housing". At the same time, the poor have suffered badly over the years from the neglect of the City. Many have been displaced through the redevelopment of properties politely called gentrification, while others continue to live in sub-standard tenements. There is a body of hard working but low income families in the City that is struggling to maintain a decent standard of living. They cannot compete with the more affluent citizens or those people moving into the city from affluent areas to the North of South Carolina. They don't have the money to buy a home. They do not readily qualify for loans from banks, nor can they afford the high interest rates on loans from other lenders. To a large extent they have been bypassed in the general growth of prosperity in the City, they need help. The development of the Neck should provide them with this help. Some payback will help right some of the injustices of the past.

Scope of the project
You are probably familiar with what is proposed at the Neck area. But for the record, let restate what has been proposed by the developer and generally supported by the City. Mr. Robert Clement, through his company has bought or plans to buy about 780 acres of land on the West Side of the peninsula. Another 180 acres has been bought by Mr. Joe Griffith. In some way, the two evelopers will be joining together in the redevelopment. The land stretches along the peninsula from Bayside Manor up to Union Heights, North Charleston. Much of the land has been used for industrial purposes in the past and some of it is considered "brown fields". It includes property that was previously owned by Koppers and Albright and Wilson, the latter now owned by Rhodia. The EPA has already allocated money to the area which has been spent on cleanup and assessment. Some of the sites need further cleaning, and because of FEMA regulations, the developers will need to make special provision for elevating any new structures in designated flood zones. Also included in this area are a number of residential communities - in particular Rosemount, Silver Hill, Union Heights and Accabee. These communities are also largely composed of African Americans of modest means and income.

Mr. Clement and Mr. Griffiths propose to develop the area to provide quality housing along with ancillary retail and office space. Mr. Clement also will be seeking to relocate a portion of Highway 26 to a position further to the east. He plans also to make the highway at ground level and not elevated above the city in the Neck area. To date, no specific building plans have been submitted, nor is there any commitment to replacement affordable housing. Mr. Clement also talks of a high speed rail service passing through the area, a service that will link the Inter-modal facility being built at North Charleston with the Visitor Center down town.

Neck annexed by City in 1977 but largely neglected
The Neck area has been neglected since its annexation by the city of Charleston in 1977. The annexation was driven by the City's need of taxable income. The industrial uses that existed were environmentally dangerous to the residents but there was financial benefit for the city. For example, the former Albright and Wilson, now Rhodia pays approximately $1 million in property taxes. It was unfortunate that more attention was not given to the cleanup of this area; many of the residents suffered from various forms of cancer that were linked with the environment.

City now is courting residents

It is amazing after so many years of neglect that the residents of the Neck are now being courted by the City and developers. Take a look at the residential community to see what I mean; see the pot holes, the absence of sidewalks and the general neglect. But for a few months, the City has been marketing the plan through 19 presidents of the Neighborhood Associations and the City Planning and Neighborhoods Department. The developer did not seek input from the community as a whole and in my opinion has "cherry picked" the spokesmen. We need people involved who are not afraid to ask the hard questions - what is the developer really going to do for you?

It is also amazing how developers are able to manipulate Federal and other grants to create new communities. The Chamber of Commerce and Spoletto USA have purchased land in the Neck. Both of these organizations are friends of the City and can be expected to support it in promoting the development.

The high potential value
The development of the Neck area will be major by the standard of any United States city. It will be a multi billion dollar development. Mr. Clement and Mr. Griffith have paid roughly $30,000 an acre. Its worth is potentially a multiple of this. Yes, there will be costs associated with clean up and providing infra-structure, which most likely will not be minimal. But in today's dollars, each acre could be worth $500,000, perhaps $1 million after clean up and the provision of infrastructure.

Land values on the peninsula are very high and support the likelihood of a high valuation on the Neck following the building of infrastructure. In the depressed part of the city, lots of less than 0.1 an acre sell for $40,000 to $85,000. At Wagener Terrace, a lot of about 0.12 acres sold for $125,000. So valuations in these areas are amount to about $500,000 to $1 million an acre. Of course, downtown, closer to the historic district, there are few vacant lots. Most are used for parking and are zoned commercial. But their value could be well in excess of $2 million an acre.

Thousands of dwellings will be created
One can only speculate on the number of dwellings that could be created in the Neck. It will depend on the density of housing and the number of condominiums. But it will be more than a critical mass to support the construction of major retailing and office facilities that in turn will add much to the value of the development. It is not stretching the imagination to project a value of the Neck on completion of the development - perhaps 10 to 15 years away of $5 billion or more in today's dollars.

I hope I have indicated the potential value that is going accrue from the development - much will go to the developers, and indirectly much will go to the City of Charleston who will be creating a larger tax base.

Proposals Omissions and Deficiencies
But let us not forget about the facts that:
• There is no provision for Affordable Housing.
• There are no provisions for accommodating the people that will be displaced by this development.
• That African Americans will have a diminished voice in City politics.
• That a large amount of State, Federal and Local funds will be allocated for the sole purpose of the cleanup.

I think that the Neck Development gives the City of Charleston the chance to right many of the wrongs that have been perpetrated over the last 40 years. African-Americans have been displaced by the City as it reclaimed tenements used for housing low income residents. Just remember those residents displaced from Ansonborough Field and the development of the Gaillard Auditorium and Shoreview. Residents were moved off Ansonborough Field by the City because the site was polluted and not fit for habitation. After sitting as a park for the last 10 years, it is now fit again somehow for development and habitation. However don't expect any affordable housing!

The City of Charleston's policy of rejuvenating the city, noble in a sense, had the impact of displacing large numbers of poor African-Americans. Some of those were able to secure other housing in the City, most were not! The African- American population of Charleston has declined substantially over the last 20 years. About 30 years ago it was near 60%; today it is a little more than 30%. The City talks frequently about its "affordable housing" programs, but the evidence documenting these programs seems lacking. A walk along the East Side of Charleston will quickly dispel the notion that African Americans of Charleston are being properly served by the provision of "affordable housing". I would add that the successful development of the Neck could well drive property values higher in surrounding areas. In a sense this is good and should create more pride for the city. But for the less affluent families, this could mean higher property taxes and a further fall in their ability to afford housing.

The people that live in the Neck area have only recently been consulted by the developers. My impression of that is most are scared and concerned about what will happen to them. Many have already the scarred by other developments that were supposed to leave then unaffected. A large number of people are old and have no other wish but to be left alone for their declining years. They do not seek a fortune or large monetary amounts for their property. They are victims rather than beneficiaries of a project that they will not likely be able to stop. Maybe they should not be allowed to stop this project because of the importance to the community; they should however be generously compensated and adequate provisions made for other accommodations. Alternative housing must be provided and every thing done to make their transition smooth and peaceful as possible.

The development if successful, and all provisions to those displaced met, will forever change the racial composition of the City of Charleston. The new residents of the Neck will be affluent White people. As a result, I estimate that the African American community will lose two or three City council seats, and possibly two County seats. There is probably nothing we can do about this - but it should be taken into account by the City and the developer in providing "affordable housing".

Finally, the Neck has been and will be the recipient of substantial grant money. This will come largely from Federal sources and via the City, this is tax payer's money. In some way this money should be returned to the community - what would be most generous, is there any way better than the provision of "affordable housing?"

Robert Ford

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