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City Council Meeting May 10

City and SC DOT sign deal
Good for the City
Marc Knapp who covers City Council

The Cooper River Bridge Partnership Agreement between the City of Charleston and the SC Department of Transport (DOT) was ratified by Council last night. The only no votes were from Council members Lewis and Campbell. Council member Campbell attempted to provide a substitute motion by reading a "laundry list" of what he considered reasons for deferring any action for a month. These reasons included environmental concerns such as pollution, structural damage to existing buildings, and the loss of "affordable housing". He also stated that more work was needed on the agreement. He commented that the City could do better and at the end of his speech, hinted at threats of a civil rights lawsuit based on Title 6 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Council member Lewis seconded his motion but after everyone voiced their opinion, Council turned down the substitute motion and approved the agreement.

The comment was made the Council member Campbell had not attended the Real Estate Committee meeting Monday to voice his concerns and that indeed, he had not attended any of the Mitigation Committee meetings that have been ongoing for the last couple of years.

Mayor Riley reiterated that the City needed to take over the property now so as to control the redevelopment. The City was also looking at creating a Special Tax District for redevelopment and would also be seeking Federal funds. In addition to the land, DOT will be giving the City $3 million in cash for mitigation.

This is in no short way is an excellent opportunity for the City. There will be about 75 to 80 vacant lots available. How many will be developed "for sale" or for "affordable housing" we do not know but most probably the redevelopment will be a mixture of both. The new bridge is substantially complete and could be open as early as next month. This means that the City could move ahead with development fairly shortly. Some of the lots cannot be developed until the old bridges are removed but a large number could be redeveloped immediately.

The City has $3 million available for development spending. Even if it is unsuccessful in securing Federal funds, this cash should be a sufficient catalyst. It may not finance all the houses to be built but would allow for a substantial start. It would finance the construction of perhaps 20 houses that could be sold and the proceeds used to finance further construction

Yours truly rose to comment on the benefits of the agreement and noted that we had before Council some months ago a builder of modular homes who was quoting construction costs of $80 a sq foot. In today's market place, this level of cost is a bargain.

Where were the development impact fees?
Council approved the issuance of $13.18 million of General Obligation Bonds (GOB). The proceeds were to be used as follows - $3.5 million for refunding existing bonds and $9.68 million for new projects. Two of these projects were the West Ashley Public Safety Building and the Cainhoy Fire Station. As usual, no cost estimates were given for the new structures. As total outstanding GOBs are less than 8% of the value of City taxable property (a cap imposed by SC Law) no referendum was necessary to approve the bonds.

The question we ask is where is the money that is being collected for development impact fees? The funds derived from these fees should be used for these sorts of developments, and not GOBs. No mention was made of the disbursement of fees for these two projects, why wasn't there some mention?

Watson Hill - threat to end the City's march to the North
The issues of the Watson Hill development have been well covered in the daily press. We have little to add except that Mayor Riley said that Summerville would probably annex the tract before the City was able to but he never said that the City was disinterested. The tract is outside the urban growth boundary and the City has refused to annex outside this boundary if it means higher than existing density.

But our observations suggest a further reason for encouraging Summerville. If North Charleston annexes Watson Hill, the City of Charleston will be bounded on the north and further annexations in this direction would not be possible. Snookered!