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City Council, March 28

Stormwater fees, affordable housing and crime
Marc Knapp

There was much on last night's agenda. However, most of the discussion was on two items, affordable housing and crime, neither of which were on the agenda. Discussion on the former was precipitated by a major development proposed in West Ashley and that on the latter by citizens' comments.

Stormwater fees up 50% and likely to rise further
Of the agenda items, the increase in Stormwater fees was probably the most important. Fees have been raised from $4 a month to $6 a month. Subsequent discussion on Council suggested that another increase was likely, but not for a year or two. Council member Fishburne noted that the revenue generated from the fees would not finance all the projects before the City. The Mayor indicated that it would take some time to complete the engineering and preliminary studies. The appropriate time to consider a further increase would be when construction is contemplated. Of couese, he did not say that a reason for the increase was years of neglect in necessary maintenence. The Post and Courier covered storm water drainage and the fee increase in today's and yesterday's editions.

Centex development precipitates "affordable housing" discussion
Strangely, it was a change in a zoning ordinance that related to the Carolina Bay development of Centex that precipitated the discussion on "affordable housing". This 468 acre tract was annexed into the City last year. Centex plans to construct 1500 housing units in the next few years. They will be a mix of single-family and multifamily. There will also be commercial units.

The Mayor and other Council members spoke favorably about the development and the provision for land for a school and park. A spokesman for the company indicated the housing units would be sold in a range of prices - starting at $190,000 and going as high as $500,000 though the majority would be around $200,000. Council member Gilliard spoke of the need for "affordable housing", and the need for the City to insist that developers set aside land for "affordable housing". He suggested that that's some of the land set aside for a park at Carolina Bay be used for such purpose. He and other African-American members of the Council also suggested that $190,000, was far more than low income people could afford and really wasn't "affordable".

Council member Shirley took issue about the dearth of "affordable housing". He pointed out that in other parts of West Ashley, houses were available for $75,000-$80,000. Not everybody should expect to live in a dream home immediately; they should begin with a "starter home".

Council member Tinkler noted that the City had a goal in relation to 'affordable housing' and suggested that staff prepare a document showing the progress of the program. Council member Gallant suggested an initiative with lending institutions, to make funds available for those financially disadvantaged. The Mayor noted that the Bank Consortium had been formed for this purpose, and was operating successfully.

There was heat to some of the comments but no new ground was broken in the discussion. But we could not help reflecting cynically on the passive role of most of the members in relation to the land in Daniel Island on which the City had the right to construct "affordable housing" units. Under a deal with the City of Charleston, the developer was to provide 20 acres of land for "affordable housing" units. If the right was not exercised within 10 years of the signing, it expired. The City did not exercise its right, at least for most of the land, and it expired last year. Land on Daniel Island is very expensive. Small parcels go for over $200,000 making an acre worth close to $1 million. We ask why the developer of Daniel Island was let off the hook. If this land was not to be used for "affordable housing", why couldn't the City insist on some payment from the developer? After all, the developer was gaining some millions of dollars from the relinquishment of the right. We have never heard this issue raised on Council, and we wonder why?

Westside citizens very concerned
The discussion on crime stemmed from comments of citizens, in particular from those of the Westside community. Mr. Arthur Lawrence, head of the neighborhood Association noted the problems on F, H, and I streets. Concerns were echoed by citizens who lived on the streets. Drug dealing was conspicuous and residents were intimidated by dealers and associates. Mr. Lawrence said "the Police Department is a joke. The area needs to be cleaned up". The owner of Tellis Pharmacy, a landmark building on upper King Street asked police and others to have a good look as to what was going on in that part of the City. It was not good. She later revealed that on the night of the robbery of the restaurant 82 Queen, the pharmacy also suffered damages from somebody attempting to break in.

Council member Gilliard also spoke strongly about the problems of drugs. A reduction or elimination of drug dealing in the less affluent communities would help reduce crime in the other communities. Reflecting the threats he had received, police advised him to carry a concealed weapon, but he refused to do so. He pled for more involvement of the community, for without community help, the problem could not be solved.

Council member Mitchell, who has frequently called for more action on crime, repeated his calls. He has spoken previously about the need to prevent loitering. His pleas had a note of desperation. An acquaintance while driving at night on the Eastside had two bullets fired through his car, he said. A homicide was committed some weeks ago, not far from his house. He was threatened by an anonymous caller about the information that he gave to the police. "We have to do something, we have to lock them up", he said.

Nobody said it, but one suspects there is a general feeling that crime is getting worse, and in all parts of the City. We don't have an explanation, but could it have something to do with the number of folk from New Orleans who have taken up temporary residence in the City? Also, we have heard suggestions that
with the departure of Chief Greenberg, all crime is now being reported, Before it was restrained. We don't know.

Other items
A few other items on the Ways and Means committee's agenda, which are worth noting.
• Work on the Dock Street theater is about to get underway. A contract is to be awarded to Evans and Schmidt, architects, for $1.7 million, to undertake Phase 2 renovation design.

• The City is submitting its requests to HUD for Community Development Block Grants and Home funds. The amounts allocated by HUD are down this year and the breakdown can be seen by pressing here. CDBG requests totaled approximately $1.1 million and Home grants $832,000. As usual, the RPC receives the largest amounts with $500,000 and $200,000 respectively. Interestingly, Elpis and PASTORS, associated with Council member Gallant, did not receive the funds they were requesting Elpis, which is restoring the Josiah Smith Tennent House is to receive $150,000, in line with receipts of the last few years. We understand it has an agreement with the City. However, it missed out on a number of other applications, particularly relating to administration of Carpenter's House, a project to folk released from jail. PASTORS was also looking for amounts to finance more "affordable housing". But these were denied.

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