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Board of Zoning Appeals, May 2

Attempt to convert use from church to theater fails
How independent is the Board?
Patricia Jones

It was a near run thing. The Board's vote was split 3-3 which of course meant that the motion to change the use failed. So the Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church in Wraggborough will remain as a place of worship. And the community, which was solidly and vigorously opposed to the usage change, is praising the Lord.

Issue should have been killed at first hearing
In our view, it was surprising that the issue made it to a second hearing of the Board. We thought the arguments were powerful enough that the attempted use change would have been killed at the first hearing. We were more surprised that the vote was so close at last night's meeting as the arguments presented by the proponents of the change were weaker. In the first hearing, there was the prospect of long term parking at the Federal Building site. In the second hearing, the parking arrangements had been changed. They were now fragmented and scattered amongst a number of sites, and had the potential to be more disruptive of the community.

Proponents ignore impact on the community in their arguments
We also noted that arguments of the proponents focused largely on the benefits of a theater and the need of the Charleston Stage to find a temporary home while the Dock Street Theater underwent renovation. Of course, this should have been irrelevant. It had no bearing on the issues and Chairman Krawcheck should have cut short these arguments. We covered the specific issues in a posting on February 21 and suffice to say here, that the real issue was the detriment to the community, in particular from traffic and parking.

Another offer to buy church and retain the present use
The proponents of the use change - in particular the Patrick family and its representatives, and some members of the Church - had little new to say. The opponents on the other hand did. They noted that an offer had been made to buy and renovate the church and that the building would be maintained as a place of worship. The price was comparable to that offered by the Patrick family.

And a strange revelation by the Chairman
Ms. Vangie Rainsford, President of the Garden District Neighborhood Society told the Board that she attempted to convey this information to the Chairman but he did not return her calls. It gets better! The Chairman acknowledged the truth of Ms Rainsford's comments. His action reflected advice sought from Mayor Riley, he said.

Mayor Riley says don't speak to her! Why? Will the Chairman be compromised? And there is no compromise when the Chairman speaks to Mayor Riley on a City supported issue?

Lawyer retained by residents speaks well
We also were impressed with the eloquence of the lawyer retained by residents of 44 Charlotte St. He knew what he was about and cited SC Supreme Court decisions that placed the burden of proof on the applicant to prove their request for a variance would not be detrimental to the neighborhood. Further, the SC Supreme Court states that a Zoning Board's power to grant variances should not be done freely, but should be reserved for extreme cases and then sparingly. He conveyed strongly the likelihood of a successful appeal by citizens in the neighborhood.

Patrick family representative stirs residents
Everyone was well behaved. But the response by the representative for the Patrick family in the applicant's rebuttal time elicited a public outcry. Mr. Walker stated that "the neighborhood is interested only in a struggling Church". The public was verbally chastised by the Chairman for its audible protest but at least Mr. Walker had the sense to withdrew his comment.

"The tide is finally turning"
The person sitting next to me said it all "I think the tide is finally turning". That would be good news for the many and diverse neighborhoods of Charleston. Citizens concerns are relevant and can no longer be ignored by the City.

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