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County Council Meeting - April 5

Citizens alarmed over proposed developments
Some 2000 housing units proposed for two projects
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

Centex was surprised at the hostility expressed at Tuesday night's public hearing. After all, it made no secret of its plans and these had been developed after full discussion with Council and its staff. It had also attempted to keep residents of the area informed. But as Council member Darby stated after a stream of residents voiced their concerns, the company may have asked citizens their views but was it listening? Council Chairman Stavrinakas advised the Centex and the other developer to look again at their plans.

Centex, a major developer, is seeking to combine 3 parcels of land that it plans to acquire into a single Planned Unit Development (PUD). These 3 parcels aggregate 466 acres (Bradham Tract) and Centex hopes to build 1770 housing units. There would also be commercial construction but 26% of the area would be open space. Overall, there would be about 3.8 units per acre and this would be less than the 4.2 units per acre allowed under the lower density Suburban Residential zoning that applied to 2 of the parcels that aggregated 233 acres.

The developer is seeking to combine the land so as to design a more "efficient" (our term) development. A larger unit will allow more flexibility for the provision of green space, access, and design amenities. Amongst other things, it would also give it more flexibility to site lots around wetlands and other natural features.

Major concern was traffic
Residents were not necessarily opposed to some development but all thought what was proposed was too much. There was much discussion as to the necessity of traffic lights, the nature and location of intersections and roads. All speakers anticipated major traffic problems and noted that even without the proposed development, problems already existed. Most speakers also anticipated severe drainage problems. City Council member Morinelli rose to speak at the public hearing to lend her support to the residents, noting again the present traffic congestion. Another speaker estimated that the development on completion would be home to about 3000 school children. The pressure on the school and the roads getting them to school had to be considered

Centex said that a traffic study had just been completed but it had not yet been made available to the public. One speaker wondered out loud as to whether it really had been competed as there were still people measuring traffic flow at some intersections. The development was likely to stretch over 10 to 15 years, Centex said.

Planning Commission member speaks against the development
It was interesting also to see Mr. Jerome Murray a member of the County Planning Commission rise to speak against the development. The Planning Commission in an earlier hearing, had unanimously approved the PUD. He said that he would not have voted in favor of the PUD if he had known that Centex was involved in the Essex development nearby. He noted that the PUD and the Essex development would total 2450 housing units. This was too much. He also said that one of the members of the Planning Commission should have recused himself from the vote, He did not say to whom he referred but it became obvious later in the evening (more on this later).

City Council member George calls for comprehensive study
It was probably City Council member Bob George that spoke the most sense. Rising to support the residents, he said that the matter before Council was just another patch in a whole quilt of developments. Each patch may be considered on it merits but it gave rise to a quilt of problems

Drawing on material supplied by Dorchester County, Charleston County and the City, he predicted some major traffic problems in the years ahead. Nearly 16,000 housing units were planned for Dorchester County alone, though this estimate could be reduced if agreements are made to reduce the Watson Hill and Poplar Grove developments. About 4,700 housing units are planned in Charleston County in the West Ashley area and possibly even more in the areas that are part of the City of Charleston. Construction of most of these units will probably be completed within 5 years. Assuming the rule of thumb figure of 9.8 vehicle trips per single family household per day, the potential increase in traffic is enormous. Assuming 20,000 new residential units and 9.8 vehicle trips a day, you get a figure of nearly 200,000 daily trips. The present infrastructure just could not cope.

Councilmember George proposed that the Counties and the City should formulate a comprehensive plan for development and infrastructure. He has made this proposal before but his plea seems to have been ignored. But with the Half Cent Sales Tax to kick in shortly, funds will be accumulating and money will be there for spending on infrastructure. So perhaps this will prompt more attention for such a plan. At the close of the meeting, Council member Fava said that it was imperative that the Council begin working on staffing for the administration of the tax. City Council member George also suggested that extending Highway 526 might be a good first step in easing the pressure that has developed.

Adjoining property fares no better in hearing
After the gale of concern over the proposal by Centex, the final rezoning hearing of the night which related to an adjacent property could expect nothing but heavy weather. The applicant was a company, the principal of which was Preston Hipp, a member of the County Planning Commission. Mr. Hipp told the Council that more housing was needed in the community and that it was all well and good to stand in the way of development but what did the county propose to do to meet the need? Mr Hipp proposed to place a maximum of 212 units on the 44 acre property as well as commercial buildings.

Council Chairman Stavrinakis noted that the PUD amendment sought by Mr. Hipp had a heavy housing density. He also noted the lack of provision for green space, and indeed there was nothing really that Mr. Hipp was giving back to the community in his application. The Chairman also noted that both the Planning Commission and Staff had voted against the development. The message - Mr. Hipp, you surprise us with this application. Your request is excessive. Go back to the drawing board. The County has no obligation to boost the profitability of development on a property you have bought.

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