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City Council, May 29

Amendments to Cell Tower and Tree Clearing Ordinances
More details relating to Magnolia development
Marc Knapp

Yesterday’s meeting was to be the first in the newly renovated City Hall. But work still remains to be done and the first meeting has been rescheduled for mid June. Whether it was the confusion over the meeting place, Spoleto or simply spring lethargy, there were few attending yesterday’s meeting, held again at the Greenberg Municipal Building on Lockwood Drive. Ignoring City employees, only a few citizens were present and not a soul spoke in Citizens Participation. And indeed, there was little meat on matters before the Council.

New regulation limiting setbacks for Cell towers
Perhaps the most important item was an amendment to the ordinance regulating cell towers. As staff explained to Council, the amendment is to limit the visual impact of these towers on the surrounding areas. It also encouraged the use of less offensive monopoles – they have no or few horizontal elements and look like flag poles. The City contains 22 towers and the proposed amendment prompted Council member Wilson to jokingly ask whether it could be applied retroactively. She was particularly unhappy with a cell tower in her district which she clearly regarded as an eye-sore. Staff will see what the owners say to the possibility of erecting a monopole. We are not holding our breath. The proposed changes accomplish the following objectives:

• Permit communication towers in our Gathering Place District under the same conditions as our General Business District.

• Increase the minimum setback requirement from residential or conservation zones areas from one half the height of the tower to the total height of the tower but add an exception that allows the flush mount monopoles and stealth monopoles to be located as close as one half the height of the tower.

• Add a minimum tower separation requirement to avoid having multiple towers in close proximity to one another.

We were concerned that a spokesman for the industry complimented the City on the new ordinance. What are we not seeing?

No more burning of trees in land development projects
Another amendment related to the removal of trees associated with land development and most likely was driven by the City’s new found desire to go “green”. The Amendment simply states that no person etc. shall incinerate or burn trees or brush in an approved residential subdivision or approved land development.

We presume that all trees and shrub matter will now have to be ground up before disposal,

City moves further along with Neck development
The creation of Tax Increment District to encompass development of the Neck area passed Council over 2 years ago. In relation to that new District, the Council last night agreed to adopt the 2007 Improvement Plan. No specific timing was given but the documents indicate that the City will possibly be raising about $165 million in bond issues. Most likely the bonds issues will be spread over a number of years.

The proceeds of the bond issues are to be used for funding infrastructure related to the 210 acres of Magnolia, located along the Ashley River in the upper peninsula of Charleston. The City notes bridges, boulevards, streets and parks comprise some of the infrastructure items. It also notes the need for construction of utilities, sewer services, and a new City garage.

Such publicly owned infrastructure improvements are expected to result in private sector investment to include 4,100 new residential units to be created over a period of between 10 and 20 years with no less than 15% of the actual number delivered dedicated to Workforce or Affordable units. In addition, up to 1.6 million square feet of commercial and office space, multiple hotels and about 24 acres of parkland are contemplated.

While the City will issue the bonds, it will not be placed at risk for any debt servicing. The ultimate security for the financing is the land itself. The taxes collected from the properties in the TIF will be used for debt servicing and principal amortization.

Humanities Foundation gets more than $300,000 injection
It may not have been of great import but there were two items on the agenda which confused us. They related to “grants” to the Humanities Foundation to cover cost overruns. They were $174,035 for The Shires Apartments and $137,722 for the Seven Farms Apartments. Both projects are for “affordable” rental housing and are owned fully by the Humanities Foundation. We wondered why the City was providing funds for the projects, particularly as the Foundation had received HUD monies for at least one of these projects.

From our discussion with staff, we understand the City is not providing the money. It is acting on behalf of HUD. The funds which are being transferred represent funds that have been received by the Humanities Foundation in the past for other projects. Either because the monies were not used or are repayments of grants, the non-profit can request the funds to be used for other projects which presumably meet HUD requirements. The City’s obligation is that essentially of an agent and the transaction will not be recorded in the City’s budget