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City Council meeting, October 24

Unjustified racial allegations again
Memminger Auditorium to be renovated, Major re-zonings around Bridge exits
Marc Knapp

The quality of debate at City Council has never been very high in our opinion. And it was not at an elevated level last night, at least not in the discussion of a development in West Ashley. The development was approved but with the opposition of Council member Wilson. But what galled us was the accusation leveled by Council member Gilliard that opposition to the development had "racial overtones". It also seemed to us that support for the development reflected consideration of the standing in the community of the applicants rather than the merits of the project. The owners were descendents of a prominent civil rights activist, and held the property for many years.

PUD on Camp and Ferguson Roads
The issue was a Planned Unit Development (PUD) on a 10.9 acre lot on Camp and Ferguson Roads. The owners planned on building 52 residential units of which 45 would be town houses and 7 Patio homes. The property was previously zoned Conservation. The development was supported by Staff and approved by the Planning Commission. The Mayor noted that the PUD allowed for the preservation of many "grand" trees, and that the density of 4.75 units per acre was in keeping with developments nearby. Other Council members pointed out that the Conservation zoning was applied many years ago to land in the area. It was really a "fall back" classification rather than intent to define its ultimate use.

Opposed by some citizens and Council member Wilson
Some residents in the surrounding area had a different view.(See letter "Planning Commission taken to task"- pubished October 22) All acknowledged the right of the family to develop the land but all thought the density was too great. Mr. Joe Qualey, a member of the Town of James Island Council asked that the density be reduced to 3 units per acre, in line with proposed zoning in the new Town. Others pointed to the great increase in traffic and the hazards to children at the nearby school, the drainage problems, and the archeological interest in the site. I too rose to point out the potential drainage problems, particularly as the PUD adjoined a very sensitive wetland area. Council member Wilson, who represents the area on Council, also spoke of these issues. Council member Morinelli asked that the approval be deferred to gather more information on traffic, but the request went nowhere.

Council member Gilliard's accusation of "racial overtones"
We would not have supported the PUD. But our purpose is not to open up debate on the pros and cons. It is to highlight the low standard of last night's discussion. Most important were the comments of Council member Gilliard. Last night was not the first time he has accused opponents of specific developments of having racist views, and in our opinion, unjustly. The accusation was leveled at those who were seeking to have Ansonborough Field preserved as a park back in 2001. It was also made of residents of Daniel Island last year when they opposed a large and unsightly structure on the Island that would contain a large number of "affordable housing" units. The residents stated they were not opposed to "affordable housing" and gladly would support "affordable housing" on the Island but on a "scattered" basis, not "clustered" as proposed by the City. The residents also noted the agreement made by the City with the developer to have only "scattered" affordable housing. The accusation of racial overtones was also echoed by Council members Waring and Gallant. (see Council Meeting August 17, 2005 on this site.)

Council member Gallant was not at last night's meeting. Council Member Waring was, and made no accusation of racial bias. However, he did speak glowingly of the Brown family and thought it would be remiss not to approve the PUD. Council member Bleeker spoke in similar tones.

As well as the smear of racial overtones that he leveled at opponents of the PUD, Council member Gilliard spoke of the "right of equal opportunity for all", the right of everybody to a "piece of the pie", and the dearth of interest in artifacts and archeological features standing in the way of previous developments.

Charge is unjustified
Where do you begin? So Council member Morinelli and Wilson are racists? So any neighbor that opposes the development is racist? We don't think so! What about opposition to developments proposed by whites? If development depended on the color of skin, why are so many developments opposed? How was the opposition racially motivated? In our view, there were reasons last night for genuine concern by neighbors. And like the Brown family, the neighbors had the right to present their view and be heard. And as for artifacts, maybe they were not an issue in other developments because none were found. But we do note that may were found on McLeod Plantation and brought to the attention of Council, so the findings on Camp Road are not unique.

Comment will not unite the black and white communities
So we too are "saddened" by what transpired last night, but largely by Council member Gilliard's injection of "racial overtones" into the debate. We don't see any evidence of racial motivation on the part of the opposition to the development and it is wrong for the Council member to make such an accusation. Such an unfounded accusation lessens his standing in the overall community, and indeed, reduces the standing of the whole City Council. We would hope the Mayor has a quiet word with him and draws attention to the likely adverse reaction to his comment. We expect Council members to act to unite the black and white communities. Council member Gilliard's comment will have the opposite effect.

Spoleto to lead renovation of Memminger Auditorium
The Memminger Auditorium is going to be resuscitated and become more a important location for Spoleto events. In a deal announced that night, the Auditorium is to be refurbished at a cost of about $5 million, of which Spoleto USA will provide $4 million and the City $1 million. Spoleto will also contribute $3 million to the $12 million renovation of the Dock Street Theatre.

We won't go in all the details. They were provided by the Post and Courier in today's edition. The School District will lease the auditorium to the City which in turn will lease to Spoleto. Spoleto will be responsible for maintenance. The school also will have the right to use the auditorium and will reimburse Spoleto for this use.

The challenge will be for Spoleto USA. According to the Mayor, it will be looking to raise $11 million to finance not only the commitment to Memminger and the Dock Street Theatre but also $4 million for a Foundation it plans to create.

Concern that local funding sources will be depleted
Council member Wilson was concerned as to where this money would come from. The local community trough was not too deep and after Spoleto drank, there would be little left for those who followed (Our metaphor, not hers). Mayor Riley opined that the funds would come from both local and other sources and didn't seem concerned that local sources would be depleted. With an Aquarium needing a million dollars a year and African American museum on the plate costing over $70 million, he probably should be concerned.

The Auditorium would probably be renovated in time for Spoleto performances in 2008.

Major rezoning of area by old and new bridges over the Cooper River
Council approved the large scale rezoning of the area between the entrances to the old and new bridges spanning the Cooper River. Actually, the rezoning extends a little further but the action was spurred essentially by the new bridge.

The City undertook the rezoning because of the changed nature of the area with the removal of the old bridge and the building of the new. It also was cognizant of the changes that were occurring anyhow, with the displacement of industrial uses by residential construction. In keeping with that change, much of the area was reclassified with a new height district. Previously it was 50/25 (i.e. Maximum 55' minimum 30') but now changed to 55/35. The changes in zoning and height were supported by the Preservation Society.

No opposition
Some hundreds of properties were involved in the rezoning and followed a number of public hearings. There was no opposition to the change expressed last night by any citizens. The fact that a major proportion of the re-zonings were from Business and Industrial to Residential, and Industrial to General Business, probably explains the lack of opposition.

Opportunity for more "affordable housing"
Council member Fishburne commented that the property gained by the relocation of the bridges was significant and presented an opportunity for the City to make a real provision for "affordable housing". He spoke of the creation of some 300 housing units on the freed- up area but thought there was an argument for looking to a higher density of 500 units with a larger proportion for "affordable housing". Council member Lewis supported this.

Council member Fishburne also suggested that the views of developers also be sought about the provision for housing. They may have some useful ideas. He also asked for the opportunity for Council to study proposals for the area. Thereafter there was a discussion with the Mayor which we did not completely follow but seemed to indicate that Council members could meet with staff and others to consider proposals before the issue came back to Council for a final decision.

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