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County Council Meeting December 5

Moves to help preserve communities north of Mount Pleasant
A tough easement issue, a new hotel for Downtown
Warwick Jones

Council last night took a step towards better preserving the communities on the eastern side of Highway 17 and north of the Isle of Palms Connector. It did this essentially by agreeing to an amendment to the Mount Pleasant Overlay, a zoning ordinance that relates to the unincorporated area north of Mount Pleasant. The changes follow recommendations by the Highway 17 North Task Force and which were endorsed by the Town of Mount Pleasant.

Restrict impact of commercialization
The purpose of the changes were to restrict the impact of increasing commercialization of the area and help preserve the residential characteristics of the Rifle Range Road, Four Mile, Six Mile and other communities that lie to the East of Highway 17. The change comes with the creation of a "Sweetgrass Basket Stand Special Consideration Area". This area along Highway 17 has been traditionally used by sweetgrass basket vendors. Staff described sweetgrass basket weaving as traditionally important in South Carolina and suggested that this section of Highway 17 may be the most important area in which they are sold. The sales of baskets will be encouraged within the defined area by allowing vendor stands in buffers and right-of-ways.

"The purpose of this special consideration area is to protect the tradition of selling sweetgrass baskets, to preserve the rural residential character of the community, to create a rural village appearance along Highway 17 North, allowing only low intensity office and commercial uses, and to encourage affordable or workforce housing that is consistent with the single owner-occupied housing that currently exists".

Three special sub-areas created
In accordance with the objectives, the maximum density allowed in the Residential Area defined in the Special Consideration Area will be 3 dwelling units per acre. Changes have also been made to minimum lot sizes, widths and set backs. The Special Consideration Area also creates an Old Georgetown Loop Office area and a Village Commercial area. These two areas also have special limitations in relation to lot width, setbacks, heights and other features.

Widening of Hungry Neck Boulevard another issue
A spokesman for the Communities said the proposal was well and good but the desire of the Town of Mount Pleasant to widen Hungry Neck Boulevard was of greater concern. Widening to 4 lanes would split the community. He suggested that a right-of-way be limited to 50ft.

Staff said that a decision on the right-of- way could not be addressed by the Overlay. It was a separate matter and fell under transportation. It would be considered when work began on the next Comprehensive Plan next year

A tough easement issue
Most of the remaining items on the agenda were more of interest that importance. The Council was in a difficult position in regard to a request from Mr. Berlin, the owner of the landmark clothing store at the corner of Broad and King Streets.

Mr. Berlin wants to renovate his building and convert the top floor to commercial use. To do this, he has to meet City code in relation to an emergency exit and meet obligations to the bank that will be financing construction. The solution seems simple. He will acquire an easement from the County which owns the adjacent land, to give him access to the 6 to 8 feet space between his building and the recently-constructed Judicial Center. He hopes never to use this space as an emergency exit, but he has to have it.

County wants right to suspend the easement
Mindful of its need to be a good custodian, the County was not inclined to give Mr. Berlin the easement for the term he sought but suggested a 10 year license with an option for renewal of another 10 years. This license or easement was not assignable. But perhaps even more damaging was the right that the Council wished to retain, to suspend the easement. As the administrator noted, the Judicial Center has given the County problems and considerable repair might be necessary. To makes these repairs, the passage way could be blocked – by scaffolding or other equipment. At that time it could not be used as an exit. Signing an agreement with Mr. Berlin and blocking the exit could be financially disastrous. If by chance there was an emergency, and people could not exit the building by the emergency exit, legal action against the County could result in substantial damages, many multiples of the $2,500 that Mr. Berlin would pay for the easement.

Mr. Berlin is to go back to the City and his potential lender and gage their reaction to an easement that can be suspended by the County for a period. And then it's back to discussions with the County. We think that Council would like to help Mr. Berlin. But as it looks presently, the liability and potential inconvenience is too formidable for the County to agree to Mr. Berlin's request.

A new hotel for Downtown
And then there was the agreement between Palmetto Commercial Properties, the owner of the building at 170 Meeting Street and the County in relation to changes to the Cumberland Street Garage. The changes are not of interest, the reason for the changes are.

The present building is large and Regions Bank is the major tenant. We do not know the size of the building but it is modern and probably occupies some 30,000 - 40,000 sq feet (a guess). The owner is thinking about converting the building to an hotel and has asked the County to allow access to the garage for the proposed entrance to the hotel. The County agreed to this last night and understandably, the owner of the building will pay for all of the changes, in particular penetrating the wall of the garage that separates it from the hotel. There was some issue as to how this would disrupt the flow of traffic in and out of the garage but this seems resolved.

Outlook for hotels superior to that for office space?
We don't know how large the hotel will be, but probably less than 50 rooms considering our understanding of the City ordinances. But the fact that conversion is being contemplated suggests that the outlook for the profitability of hotels is greater than that of commercial buildings. We know a number of new hotels are being considered or planned for the City, suggesting that developers are encouraged by the industry outlook. There is also a lot of commercial space in the City that remains unoccupied. At the same time, traffic congestion is rising and in this respect, the City is becoming less attractive for office workers, particularly as street parking for most in not an option. Traffic congestion in the City is of less concern to tourists staying at an hotel. They most likely will walk most places in the City rather than ride.

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