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City Council Meeting January 24

State of the City Address - few surprises
Harold Koon award and some zoning issues
Marc Knapp

Last night the Mayor gave his annual State of the City address. As usual it was long and contained few surprises. The Post & Courier covered it in today's edition and the full text is available on Charleston.net. As could be expected, the Mayor reviewed some of the events of last year and spoke of the problems that confronted the community. He spoke of growth, the need for regional planning, and preservation of the environment. Nothing much has changed over the years, for example, the address in 2000 highlighted the same things. This year there was mention of the benefit that would flow from the half-cent sales tax.

Majority of homeowners enjoyed lower City taxes?
There were a number of things that caused us to raise our eyebrows, though two in particular. One was the statement that most homeowners in the City of Charleston enjoyed a decrease in City taxes last year. Well, we won't argue with the Mayor. But most of us are surprised. As I have said before, I have not met anybody that did not suffer an increase. But despite the fact that the majority of homeowners suffered no increase, the Mayor is concerned about property taxes and is looking at ways of ameliorating the impact though he did not say what these measures might be. But he did caution changes that were under consideration at the State level and the consideration of a 2-cent sales tax.

City takes too much credit
The other item was the 400 units of "affordable housing" that were being constructed in the City. Again we don't dispute the figure, but it is too much to insinuate that the City is responsible for all of it. Yes, it created the framework re-zoning and approving such projects. But the actual funding for much of these dwellings comes from non-profits with their own financing, or from HUD money. The actual funds put up by the City are only a small part of the total. But we will concede that the City is doing more now that it has done in the past.

Save the City President receives Harold Koon award
Last night also witnessed the annual Harold Koon award - "a City of Charleston award to honor a resident who has demonstrated continuous and outstanding volunteer service to the neighborhood in which they live". The recipient last night was Jack Simmons, the President of Save the City and who lives "below Broad". He is also a doctor who works out of MUSC. Save the City has often been a critic of the City's preservation efforts and certainly has been vocal in its opposition to the Clemson School Of Architecture in Ansonborough. Well, if there were any animosity, it certainly didn't show last night. Dr Simmons verbally embraced the Mayor and Council and made no mention of disappointing preservation efforts. And the Mayor was equally effusive.

City re -zoning procedure is criticized
And speaking of preservation, it was touched on in a round about way by Council member Shirley. The catalyst was a re-zoning of a 2.3-acre block of Fleming Road from Single Family Residential (SR1) to Single Family Residential (SR4) a change that would lead to high density of dwellings. I was the only member of the public to speak against the re-zoning, citing present traffic problems and the likely exacerbation. No other member of the public rose to speak of these though Council members had much to say on the issue, and Council members Wilson and Bleeker who represent the area joined the majority to viote for the rezoning. Council member Shirley asked rhetorically why nobody from the neighborhood was present to speak. May be they did not know what was planned. He suggested that the notification signs were too small and that in future signs with the letter Z should be posted to so folk would know that some change is contemplated.

His comments, although in half jest, brought responses from two members of the audience, the first from my colleague Warwick Jones. He said the size of a sign was a problem but of more importance was the insufficient notice that was given of re-zoning and BAR hearings. The notice was only a week and this was inadequate, particularly in summer when so many people were on vacation. There was not time for a neighborhood association to organize. Another member of the public endorsed the Council member's comments stating that more folk in the neighborhood should be informed of the changes contemplated.

Lack of details of annexation forms
I also spoke in Citizens Participation about the lack of details on some of the forms that were submitted to Council in the annexation process. The forms were created by the City and required certain information. However the forms more often than not were incomplete when passed to Council and the public. It was not that the information was lacking. It was just that nobody on staff felt it necessary to compete the forms. If Council feels it is not necessary to have this information, why is it sought? One of the propertiies up for annexation was owned by Boby Harrell, thd Speaker of the State legislature. I estimate the anexation will add some $17,000 to City property taxes. This tax coupled with those derived from other annexations will be significant for City revenues. But of course they are not included in the Budget of the City until the following year. So in a sense, the City does not have to account for them until the followig year also.

Other items
Another item on last night's agenda was the Memorandum of Agreement with the County and other involved counties and municipalities relating to the Francis Marion National Forest. The agreement seeks to restrain encroachment of development and has already been discussed in the press and agreed to by County Council.

A Resolution was also before Council in which the City gave up its reversionary right to the passenger terminal property of the State Port Authority (SPA) in return for the SPA giving up its right of reconveyance on the parcel B property on Concord Street. The latter is the site of a proposed development of condominiums.

We did not know of the SPA's rights in relation to the Concord Street property and we are uncertain about the implication of the rights given up by the City. We thought that in the long term - really long term - the City aspired to take over the Port area and make it a park. At least that is what was said in the charrette on Ansonborough Field some years ago. The Mayor was at pains last night to assure Council members that in discussions with the SPA, the latter had agreed to limit only one large passenger vessel at a time at the port. More than one large vessel would be overwhelming for the community, he said. We don't see the linkage between this and the resolution passed by Council. Are we missing something?

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