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Initial "Mark Clark Community Impact Assessment" Hype Fizzles
Lee Walton

Two recent articles in the Palter and Chatter, Charleston's local bastion of unbiased editorial opinion and truth, make you wonder if they're using too much ink in that poorly ventilated news room. On July 22nd James Scott's Study sees a new Johns, boldly reported "20%-40% extra growth possible if I-526 is extended" and warned that the expressway extension "…could spark explosive growth in the rural community..." Just four weeks later, Robert Behre's August 18th article, A boost but no boom, reported that "The extension of the Mark Clark Expressway would add between 2,500 and 5,000 people to the population of Johns and Wadmalaw islands by the year 2030. But even if the Mark Clark's last leg isn't built, those islands can expect to see their population increase from 18,177 in 2003 to 30,828 by 2030, an increase of 70%." Behre apparently did his homework, but Scott should switch to de-café, do a better job researching before he hits the keyboard, or stop "spinning" the facts for the benefit of the I-526 opponents.

An in-depth review of EDWA's Mark Clark Community Impact Assessment estimates a modest 8%-16.5% increase in population if the Mark Clark Expressway is completed. Nonetheless, James Scott's damage was done and Coastal Conservation League's Megan Desrosiers snapped up his bait in her July 31st Op-Ed, Projected Johns Island growth reason to re-evaluate Mark Clark, and ran off about 200 yards of half truths in an "ax grinding" tirade against the completion of I-526 with equal disregard for the facts and recommendations stated in the EWDA Impact Assessment.

The I-526 "tipping point" in the ongoing debate over the future of Johns Island can benefit from a few words of wisdom from our region's second-most self-proclaimed environmental preservationist and growth management expert, Dana Beach (Mayor J. Pericles Riley being second to none). "…bad growth…is the results of public decisions made every day by planners, planning commissions, and elected representatives… The difference between good and bad decisions hinges on the quality of our planners and representatives….Large scale development in rural areas raises taxes and drives poorer residents out, especially in African-American communities…we can make stunningly good decisions about growth when we put our collective minds to it." Admittedly, he's absolutely right! We can and must do better with this most current decision regarding the completion of I-526 and its potential impacts upon Johns and Wadmalaw Islands.

It's all about the quality and integrity of those we elect to make critical growth management decisions. Judging from what's happened over the past three decades, Pericles and his sycophantic council have made some pretty bad choices; if they were any less effective they would need watering twice a week. It's time for a regime change.

The best way not to repeat the sins of the past on Johns Island is to consider recent development impacts of accelerated urban growth upon other local sea islands and learn from those mistakes. The best recent example is Daniel Island. A mere fifteen years ago it was one of the most remote, rural concentrations of valuable farmland remaining on the South Carolina Coast. Now, with the extension of I-526 to East Cooper, it's one of the fastest growing urban areas on the East Coast. But "Pre-526 Daniel Island" was very different from the current "Pre-526 Johns Island". Without I-526, Daniel Island would still be a remote, low-density, agricultural community with a predominantly long time resident African-American population. It's current extent and pace of dense urban development would not have been possible without the planned eastward extension of I-526, which arguably, precipitated extensive City of Charleston annexations and costly, long-term development agreements negotiated by Pericles as he sought to extend his empire into lower Berkeley County. Strangely, there were no shrill arguments against the eastward extension of I-526 and the development of Daniel Island from the then fledgling Coastal Conservation League or its executive director. To the contrary, after a few brief, albeit transparent comments, the League and its executive director endorsed the City's grand, new urbanism plans for both Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula. Many political observers still believe that Dana Beach "carried water" for Pericles to counter environmental criticism form opponents of that massive deal-estate development.

In stark contrast to "Pre-526 Daniel Island", The Mark Clark Community Impact Assessment clearly indicates the extent of current development on Johns Island and the sobering projected 70% increase in population by 2030 even without the completion of I-526. Anyone commuting daily to and from Johns Island knows that Maybank Highway often becomes an afternoon "parking lot" from Riverland Drive on James Island to well west of the River Road Intersection on Johns Island. The question to be pondered by all stakeholders in the Johns Island I-526 decision is - Will the "quality-of-life" on Johns Island be potentially less in the long run without I-526 than its proposed completion with the leveraged mitigating actions and recommendations presented in the EDAW Impact Assessment?

It all boils down to whom you trust to implement the Policy Options and Recommendations presented in the Impact Assessment; they're all well presented and defined, but the single most critical is the preservation of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) as "…the strongest regulatory tool for managing urbanized growth." This barrier, coupled with additional recommendations to restrict public sewer service and limit City annexations beyond the UGB could be formidable growth management tools to mitigate possible impacts from the completion of I-526. Not surprisingly, these recommendations will be met with little enthusiasm from Pericles and his pack of deal-estate developers drooling to be cut loose like a pack of deerhounds on Johns Island with or without I-526.

The final recommendation in the Impact Assessment is the use of "conservation easements" to prevent future development, preserve the rural character of the Island and protect long time property owners from increased taxable land values. A further step attempted by Charleston County Planners during the development of the UDO several years ago was the possible use of "purchased development rights" to insure the preservation of family farms and rural agricultural land uses; perhaps this worthy growth management tool could also be resurrected for the further protection of Johns Island.

Your Comments:

Greedy and money hungry developers have been drooling over John's Island since first plans for I-526 were release. Now things are getting setup for a showdown as they push forward in the name of profit and wealth.

Development is a business, of course. And unless something is done to control it, soon all water front and marsh view property around Charleston will be lined with houses. This will take away from the beauty of the area and also add to what seems to be a decaying enviroment for wildlife.

With the explosive growth taken place while elected leaders are being wined and dined, Charleston is losing it's suburban charm. In my opinion, these developers that are trying to make a living at our community's expense need to just look to build a new town somewhere on the outter fringes of the county and leave the areas rich in revolutionary and civil war history alone (which includes, in part, John's Island and Rantowles). Never have I seen such greed demostrated by builders and developers than I have these past 10 years. And its time to start saying "enough and no more"!

Posted by: Max at September 15, 2006 07:41 AM

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