The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council Meeting July 19

Mayor's conduct of meetings questioned
Warwick Jones, temporarily standing in for Marc Knapp

We really had not noticed until Council member George made an issue of it. But it rose in the Ways and Means Committee meeting over the increase in building permit fees and the grant of $250,000 to the Charleston Housing Trust. The Committee is chaired by Council member Waring with the Mayor a member of the Committee. But the Mayor spoke many times on the issue and in the opinion of Council member George, out of order. The Council member pointed out that the Mayor did not have the right to speak as he did and that according to the rules, a member could not speak more than twice when a motion is on the floor.

Chairman Waring was undoubtedly uncomfortable about the issue and sought the opinion of City counsel who said that the Mayor could respond to a question. Chairman Waring ruled accordingly. Council member George then appealed the rule of the Chair. It was put to a vote and Council member George's appeal was rejected.

The immediate impact was a studied effort in politeness and behaviour with Council members noting when they were asking questions of the Mayor. But not everybody thought the Mayor was adhering to what were proper in terms of conduct in a hearing. It was telling that on one issue the Clerk of Court turned to the Mayor after a count of votes and declared that "You won!" We also spoke to the principal of Container Management who had an issue with the City over re-zoning of a property on Walnut Street. He noted that the Mayor interjected in this debate a number of times when it seemed to be going against him. Was this proper for a Mayor to attempt wielding such influence over Council, he asked ?

We have often noted the Mayor's strong influence over the voting by Council members. So we were very interested in Council member George's action. Maybe the Mayor was only responding to questions when the Council member raised his objections. But it prompted us to look closer at Robert's Rules of Order, the "Bible" on the conduct of meetings and that on which Council's rules are based. Guess what? Mayor Riley seems to be out of order in our view, at least in Council meetings. As Mayor, effectively Chairman of the Council meetings, he should not be participating in the debate after a motion has been made. He should maintain an impartial position. If he wishes to participate in the debate, he is required to pass the "chair" to the mayor "pro tem", or another member of Council. Of course he is allowed to vote and speak, but only at the end of the debate.

To see the appropriate clauses from Roberts Rules press here

We wonder where this will all lead. Mayor Riley can be anything but passive. We don't expect that he will lie down. But then again, we expect Council member George and perhaps others to insist of the enforcement of rules.

Oh and the issue of building fees?. They are going up by about 7.5%. At the higher level, they will be still only comparable with those elsewhere in the County. The increased revenue will go to the General Fund but concomitant with this, the City agreed to grant Charleston Housing Trust (CHT) $250,000. These funds will be used to finance "affordable housing" and follow a grant of $150,000 from Charleston County. The County also chose to raise these funds from an increase in building fees. Grants to CHT by both the City and County are expected to continue each year.

$6 million for affordable housing
And while on the subject of "affordable housing", the Mayor announced that Estates Properties LLC had submitted the successful bid for the development of Parcel B on the Peninsula at Concord and Cumberland Street. The principals of Estates Properties are those assocated with the condominium developments on George Street, and on Calhoun Street by Ansonborough Field. The developer is committed to build 28 condominium units and 42 parking spaces. The $6 million consideration will be used by the City to finance "affordable housing" at Longborough, a development of the Beach Company. As the Mayor said, he does not expect the money to be utilized fully to finance these units. The Beach Company is obliged to provide the units at a cost to the City of $125 a sq ft. The units will be sold to "affordable housing" buyers. Presumably a goodly portion of the funds from Parcel B will be used to subsidize the sales. But some of the $6 million from Parcel B will be processed after Longborough sales into more "affordable housing" finance.
But it was not all praise
Members of the residential community near Wappoo Road, West Ashley rose to voice there concern at the 72 residential units that were being built by The Humanities Foundation in their area. They claimed that they were given no notice by the City by the Humanities Foundation and that the latter had told them that construction was a "done deal" and that nothing could be done about it.

The residents cited potential traffic problems and a potential increase in crime as their major concerns. But it was also clear their noses were "out of joint".

How much development can the community stand?
There was a large contingent of Johns Island folk at last night's meeting. They had come to voice their fears over a major development on River Road on Johns Island. The offending development was of 207 units on a 128 acre site. It was not so much the development per se. As one resident noted, it was probably a good development - the density of housing at 2.6 per acre was much less than zoning allows. And there had been good provision of buffers etc. No, the issue was this development in conjunction with all the others along River Road, adding up to 2000 units according to one speaker.

Some residents spoke of the 375 unit development across the road which had been recently approved by the City. To the surprise of many, City staff was unaware of this development and learned of it from the residents.

All of this development was going to add up to unbearable traffic pressures, After all, River Road was a simple 2 lane road and not capable of bearing the potential traffic. The City staff disagreed.

Mayor Riley supported the development and noted that it was within the County Urban Growth Boundary and that the developer could have placed many more units on the property. It should be approved and the other problems addressed later. Council member George made the same speech we have heard a number of times. It continues to be appropriate and continues to be ignored. He stated that it was time for the City and other entities to look at the "whole quilt and not one patch". He called for a comprehensive traffic and infrastructure study of the area. All development should be put on hold.

Council approved the development but subject to some more drainage and traffic studies. The Johns Island folk opined that despite the promise of more studies, they had lost the battle.

A winning compromise on re- zoning issue
The final issue before Council was the most interesting - and it had to be interesting to command attention at the end of a 4 hour Council session. The issue began some months with the desire of the City to find a place for tattoo parlors. Council decided that tattooing should be confined to industrial zoned areas. But the City thought when it looked at light-industrial zoned areas, there were many properties that abutted residential and commercial areas and that these were inappropriately zoned light-industrial. Accordingly the City moved to re-zone these properties, most of which were in the downtown area of the Peninsula.

Overall there was no problem - except for a property on Walnut Street. This was owned by Container Maintenance Company. It had owned the land for 10 years and the property was to be used for maintenance of equipment that the company used to repair chassis and containers.

The company has an important role in servicing the users of the port. It was very unhappy indeed about the re-zoning. It voiced its opposition earlier this year through an attorney who happened to be the father of Council member Bleeker. A decision was deferred until the next meeting of Council so more information could be gathered. But the company did not understand this and believed that it would be notified as to the next hearing. Consequently it had no representative present when the re-zoning was again before Council.

The company was given leave by the Mayor to make a full presentation last night in support of the retention of the present zoning. And again the principal speaker was the company's attorney - the father of Council member Bleeker.

Considering the importance to the port of the services provided by the company, the nature of the company's activities and the difficulty in procuring another site reasonably close, we confess to siding with the company. So did some of the Council members though all confessed to some uncertainly as to what was the right thing to do. The Mayor however spoke strongly in favor of the re-zoning saying that Council members should disregard what the Walnut Street area look like presently and envisage what it would be like in the future after the removal of the old bridges.

Council member George came up with a solution that carried the day. He proposed that the zoning be changed to residential but the Container Management Company should be grandfathered for 10 years to conduct its present business. By a majority of one, the council agreed with Council member George's suggestion with Council member Bleeker voting with the majority.

Considering the relationship between her and the attorney for the company, we wonder whether Council member Bleeker should have recused herself from the matter. She certainly made no secret that the attorney was her father. But was that enough?

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