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City Council, March 27

Seeks funds for Greenbelts
Hopes to move the UGB and to annex Long Savannah Plantation development
Warwick Jones, standing in for Marc Knapp who has a "buggy" stomach

There were a lot of items on yesterday’s City Council Agenda which we thought were worthy of some discussion. And as happens too frequently, there was little or no discussion. In particular there was the $1.96 million distribution of CDBG and Home grants from HUD, an ordinance relating to the Neck Development and the applications to the County for Greenbelt Funds.

For our enquiries, it seems that Council members first learned about two of the three applications for Greenbelt funds when they read the material in front of them yesterday. And despite the explanation by the Mayor, most Council members probably learned more about the most important from the Post and Courier article this morning by David Slade.

Council members were asked to approve applications for funding to acquire the Ellis Oak property at the intersection of Ellis Oak Avenue and Folly Road, the Harbor Woods tract that lies between the James Island Recreation Center and the JI High School, and a 232 acre Bear Swamp Tract at the end of Bear Swamp Road. The latter item was of the most interest.

Cost of Bear Swamp tract $2.9 million, value $7.4 million
The application for the Ellis Oaks tract is for $430,000 and it our understanding that the City will be reimbursed for this as it has already agreed to the purchase. The amount sought for the Harbor Wood tract – about 41 acres - is uncertain. Staff told us as the exact acreage to be bought has not been worked out with the vendor. The purchase will afford the City an opportunity to expand the Recreation Center. Our guess is that the final cost will approach $1 million. The amount for the Bear Swamp tract is $2.9 million. Staff noted that the appraised value is $7.4 million and on that basis, the acquisition would be a bargain.

Decision comes with issues
The author notes that he is a member of the Greenbelt Advisory Board and makes no comment on the merits of the applications. The decisions on each of the applications will be made by the appropriate entities put in place by the County. And that relating to Bear Swamp may prove complex. It also comes with issues. An extract from the P&C report today follows.

Charleston hopes to use $2.8 million in greenbelt funds to buy part of the controversial Long Savannah Plantation development property and create a 232 acre park on the rural edge of West Ashley. Mayor Riley said that for the first time, Charleston would be willing to annex the development and would not resist moving the urban growth boundary to accommodate the plan. The boundary line has been recognized by the City and Charleston County as the point at which suburban style development should stop. Long Savannah is immediately west of the boundary line and calls for thousands of hones on what is now 3000 acres.

Riley said that the city’s plan to create a large park at the top of Bear Swamp Road combined with the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission’s potential purchase of 1000 acres from Long Savannah Plantation developers would surround the proposed community with a literal greenbelt. The City and County parks would abut, creating a 1300 acre park system. “The thinking is that with this strong green buffer, the development is appropriate”, said Riley who also noted that Charleston County not the City regulates that land ….

The City plan depends on the County Parks and Recreation Commission purchasing about 1000 acres of the developable land. “This would only occur if the PRC acquires that.” PRC executive Director Tom O’Rourke said Tuesday night that no decision had been made on the Long Savannah property. “As of this date, there is no commitment to Long Savannah Plantation”.

Should the UGB be moved to accommodate the City?
So should the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) be moved to accommodate the City? Agreement by the County will accommodate the Long Savannah Plantation development and ultimately the City who will of course annex in the development, now much smaller than originally proposed but still with likely “thousands of homes”.

Construction on Neck development moves closer
The item was titled Charleston Neck Redevelopment Project Reimbursement and Construction of Improvements. Despite a short explanation by the Mayor, we are still not sure what it all means. The item prompted Council member Fishburne to ask the Mayor to give Council an update as to what was happening at the Neck at a future meeting. The Mayor agreed

After reading the “legalise”, we would summarize the agreement – between the City and the developers - as another green light in the process to develop the Neck. Specifically, the item before Council allows the City to issue up to $175 million in bonds to finance infrastructure construction in the Neck area or specifically that area which falls within the Tax Increment District. The interest and repayment of these bonds will be derived from assessments made on the property owned by the Neck developers. The documents state that the cost of the infrastructure is expected to be about $130 million.

“Adoption of this ordinance will permit funds expended from publicly –owned capital improvements prior to the City Council creation of the Municipal Improvement District to be repaid from assessments levied on the properties in the District upon its creation” City Legal Counsel.

The Mayor did note at the conclusion of his short explanation that the development at the Neck had a value of $2 billion. He did not specify by what time, but we would guess in the longer term it will be much more, even measured in today’s dollar values.

Recipients of CDBG and Home Grants

As we normally do each year, we note the recipients of the Community Development Block Grants and Home Grants that are made from HUD funds. Together, the grants amount to $1.96 million. The recipients differ little each year. And as before, we wonder about some grants, and in particular the large grant to Elpis, and those to its associates RESTORE, Carpenter's House, and Innovative Alternative for Education. Elpis owns the JC Tennant House on East Bay Street which has been extensively renovated. It has absorbed an estimated more-than-$3 million in funds over the years, much of which comes from HUD via the City. We still have not met anybody that has used the services that Elpis provides to the Eastside Community. Download file

The largest distribution - $700,000 - goes to the Redevelopment and Preservation Commission. The Commission makes grants to owners for renovation of properties in low income areas. Its members are citizens and Council members.

Just for the record, the applications for CDBG and Home grants are first considered and approved by a committee of some 12 or so citizens. The approved list is then passed to a Committee of Council members who must sign off on the approvals. The members of this Committee are Council members Mitchell, Lewis, Gallant, Fishburne, Gilliard and Tinkler.

Skateboarders want their own park. Support may be limited
It was not on the agenda, but skateboards came out in yesterday’s discussion. It was prompted by a member of a non-profit group urging the creation of a skateboard park in Charleston. We confess to our surprise that the idea was taken seriously by some members and in particular Council member Wilson who thought that skateboarding should be considered as a recreation. Mayor Riley remained cool, but did not hide his ire concerning skateboarders. He waxed long about the damage that skateboarders were doing to public property, in particularly on Liberty Square, the Pineapple Fountain and the Maritime Center.

Arthur Lawrence, President of the Westside Neighborhood Association also took issue with the media which had recently broadcast a clip showing the seeming assault of a skateboarder by a female policewoman. He decried the media for using what was obviously a set-up. This was taken up by Council member Fishburne and the Mayor who applauded the work that police were doing and in particular the policewoman who was the subject of the clip.

Maybe the City should consider a skateboard park. But we suspect that many residents share the ire of Mayor Riley. And for that reason, skateboarders may find it hard to generate sympathy for their cause.