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I-526 & the Urban Growth Boundary - A Winning and Necessary Combination
Lee Walton

For those who reside West Ashley and on the Sea Islands and Resort Islands southwest of the Charleston Peninsula, the recently announced State Infrastructure Bank funding of the last segment of I-526 promises long delayed relief from intolerable traffic congestion. However, to those who reside on Johns Island and beyond Bees Ferry Road, the perceived benefits are less certain and dependant upon the cooperative efforts and courage of County Council and the City of Charleston to resist ever increasing deal-estate development pressures. These two elected Councils and J. Pericles Riley control the two most important land planning tools available to maximize the regional quality-of-life benefits possible from the completion of I-526 --- Low-density Rural Zoning and the Urban Growth Boundary.

For the tens-of-thousands of West Ashley commuters who struggle in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Glenn McConnell Expressway, SC-61 and US-17 South, the completion of I-526 will provide significant savings in travel time and transportation costs. For those who commute across James Island to Johns Island and beyond, similar benefits are anticipated. For James Island, a completed I-526 will free-up capacity on several Island highways and provide shorter travel times on safer, less congested roadways. To all who reside southwest of the Ashley River in lower Charleston County, the completion of I-526 will finally provide a vital lifeline for rapid hurricane evacuation.

For its brief seven year existence, Charleston County's Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) has been the proverbial line-in-the-sand beyond which low-density rural zonings and agricultural and conservation uses now predominate. Having faced only one serious, albeit unsuccessful, challenge, the UGB remains essentially intact as originally established. Both County Council and the County Planning Board are to be commended for their consistency, courage and willingness to preserve this most important defense against inappropriate zoning and the seemingly relentless Urban Sprawl so prevalent elsewhere throughout the Tri-county Area. With continued popular support and a voter-stiffened spine when necessary, the County appears committed to holding the line on future attempts to expand the UGB beyond its current limits or allow significant changes in rural zoning densities.

Not surprisingly, Pericles and his emasculated City Council seem less dedicated to the preservation of the UGB and low-density rural zoning. In the few instances that have tested the City's mantle, the results have been less than encouraging. Pericles pirouetted around the UGB barrier with a string of stumbling platitudes when confronted with a less than cooperative Planning Commission that denied a late 2005 effort to rezone James Island's Grimball Farms located outside the UGB. Characteristically, Pericles and his sycophantic Planning Staff are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to resurrect the Grimball Farms Planned Unit Development, now curiously linked at the hip to the seemingly magnanimous effort by the Open Land Trust to facilitate the purchase and preservation of Morris Island. The Ginn Company, who just happens to be a "big player" in the City's Neck Redevelopment and also the owner of Grimball Farms, recently purchased this fragile and nationally historic Barrier Island for a possible high-end destination beach resort.

Coincidently, Pericles' protégé and former Executive Assistant, David Agnew, heads the Open Land Trust locally. Yep! Just flip over any old rock and watch what crawls away. James Islanders need to stick to Grimball Farms like Cousin Arthur's proverbial "white on rice". It will be back as soon as Pericles and his band of lackeys think it's dark enough to try again when no one's looking.

The Long Savannah Plantation project west of Bees Ferry Road is another threat to the County's Urban Growth Boundary which subdivides this proposed 3,058 acre planned unit development. According to a June 28th article in the Palter & Chatter, only about 230 acres are currently inside the UGB. A developer-requested shift in the UGB would facilitate construction of over 4,800 homes instead of about 1,000 allowable under current zoning. The County Planning staff is now being pressured to support an outward relocation of the UGB, which must occur while the property is still located in the County; a development agreement is also being requested. With a relocated UGB and agreement in hand, the developer could then annex into the City of Charleston for even higher density and Charleston CPW utility service. The City's Planning Department has already met with them - talk about playing both ends against the middle. You got to hand it to Pericles and his cronies; when it comes to growing a tax base, they're grand masters.

With an unbelievable public display of hypocrisy, the Lowcountry's own gift to coastal conservation and self-proclaimed regional planning expert, Dana Beach, is now on record in the Palter & Chatter saying he doesn't necessarily oppose the idea of moving the UGB for the Long Savannah Plantation project. What is he thinking? Such a precedent would open a floodgate for Pericles and his stable of thoroughbred deal-estate developers. This twisted logic follows closely on the heals of the League's hell-bent effort to stop the completion of I-526 and diverting the ½ Cent Sales Tax funds to shifting I-26 in the Neck so Pericles can orchestrate another addition to his Acropolis. Have the big contributions from the Neck deal-estate developers and the Palter & Chatter finally come home to roost on the Conservation League's roof like hungry vultures in a "Snoopy Cartoon"?

If the remainder of I-526 is to be completed with minimal adverse impacts upon Johns Island and other fragile and historic rural areas, both County Council and the City of Charleston must be publicly committed to maintaining the Urban Growth Boundary in its current location and maintaining low-density agricultural densities beyond it. Charleston CPW should limit utility service only to new developments inside the UGB. The portion of I-526 crossing Johns Island should be constructed as a limited access parkway with wide, naturally vegetated buffers and greenbelts separating it from all adjacent land uses.

Lastly, the public must find other preservation organizations to hold their banners and support rural land use preservation. It's obvious that the Coastal Conservation League now has other self-serving agendas and loyalties. Pericles finally got 'em. Mercy!

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