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A park at Long Savannah dedicated to the fallen firemen

Sincere emotion or political opportunism?

Warwick Jones

Who really knows the depth of the suffering of those close to the firemen that lost their lives? We know it is great but fortunately few of us have had to bear such a tragedy. The loss of parents or grandparents is heartbreaking but is inevitability. It is something that has to be accepted. We may bleed from the suffering but the wound usually heals.

The premature death of a spouse or child is something else. Their time on earth is cut short for reasons we don’t understand. We ask why and receive no answer. We feel an injustice, not only because of the inexplicable shortness of our loved-one’s life, but for ourselves who are left to mourn and with little comfort.

The suffering of the families that lost loved ones in the Super Sofa Store factory fire can only be imagined. They may be proud of the service that those who were lost gave to the community. But alone in their beds at night, surrounded by darkness and nothing to distract them from their thoughts and recollections, it is no solace. Gloom hangs heavy, and for some, will never dissipate.

How long do you defer questions over the incident?
The community recognizes the loss, and the grief of the bereaved families. Some have argued that out of respect for the lost firemen and their families, questions about the cause of the fire and the actions of the fire department and its members should be deferred. The question then become for how long? Mayor Riley would prefer to wait until the results of the formal enquiry. The Post & Courier has not carried an editorial on the issue. But the prominence given to a Letter to the Editor on the matter suggests that it too would like to delay judgment. The Charleston Firefighters Association thought otherwise and its spokesman made very critical comments about procedures and policy of the City’s fire department. In our view, there is no reason to defer discussion. And indeed, Charlestonwatch has already carried comments on the fire.

Mayor proposes dedicating a park at Long Savannah
We have attempted to tread softly over these emotional times and no doubt some will say that we failed. But if we are guilty of insensitivity, how large is the guilt of Mayor Riley? We are not referring to any shortcomings of the City, the fire department or its management – though we do have questions. We refer to his request to dedicate the proposed parkland in the Long Savannah development to those killed in the Super Sofa Store fire. By making this suggestion, he has attempted to draw on the deep emotions of the County’s citizens to help achieve his political ends. Thank goodness that the Chairman of the County Council, Tim Scott has the sense to “have none of it”. The Long Savannah Development and the proposed park should be assessed on their own merits, he effectively said.

And just in case you do not recall or know, the developer of the Long Savannah properties has offered to sell two parcels of land, well below market value to the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) and the City respectively. In return, the developer asks that the County move the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) so that the proposed development of 1500 homes will be on the urban side. Thereafter, the City of Charleston would annex the properties and there would be no issue as to the developer having access to the sewage and water infrastructure of the Charleston Water Company. So the developer, with the movement of the UGB, has a viable billion dollar plus project.

An issue of principle
For us there is the important issue of principle. Long Savannah is offering the proposed parkland at a price below appraised value. The considerable savings arising from this below-market purchase is supposed to persuade the County to accept the offer. We see it something more than a normal commercial transaction. It a “payment” to the County for modifying its planning and zoning regulations. In our view it is something kin to a bribe.

Moving the UGB, effectively makes it negotiable for further developments. Johns Island residents will prepare for war! The island residents and others consider the UGB permanent. It is a foundation of the County’s greenbelt plan. It should not be moved. But if it to be moved, there should be public hearings at the very least.

A quest for higher tax revenues
Why is the Mayor doing this? We can only speculate. He knows that many in the Community feel the UGB is necessary to preserve what is left of the rural ambiance of the County. He knows that he could pay a price in the polls for his efforts. But the prize could be huge. Long Savannah will be a billion dollar plus development over its life and the tax revenues will be large. He is already calling County Council members soliciting their support for his plans.

Imperial Charleston
The annexation fits the patterns of Charleston’s “municipal imperialism”. If a property can be annexed into the City, do so. Look at the annexations in West Ashley, and James and Johns Islands. Grow the City, grow the tax base! And after Long Savannah who knows, maybe parts of Dorchester County? Where else can the City expand? The Emperor believes that no boundaries will contain the Imperial City of Charleston. And the end will be achieved whatever the means, including an attempt to marshal the emotions relating to the loss of the firemen. And who knows, maybe he will one day ignore the unwritten agreement with the County to honor the UGB and not annex on the rural side.

Mayor has misjudged
We think the Mayor has misjudged the intelligence of the populace. The Mayor’s reputation for transparency in dealings is not good. We know many who are appalled at his request for the dedication of a Long Savannah park to the fallen firemen. The proposal to dedicate the Super Sofa Store site was appropriate. But to also dedicate a park at Long Savannah is only political opportunism. It is poor taste.

Your Comments:

Great commentary, Warwick. Although, I view the Sofa Super Store site memorial as the same inappropriate pandering to the emotions of family and the community by the mayor. We have become so hasty to memorialize events in this country.

The loss of lives in this event is horrific and sad. In my opinion, it need not to have happened. Not to dismiss the service of these men, but had this been a fire in a hospital, a school, a nursing home, the sacrifice they made would warrant a memorial, maybe two as the mayor has so sincerely suggested. It wasn't. It was a furniture store. It is disgraceful to the lives of these men that the chief says it would all be done the same way if it were to happen again. All for a bunch of sofas and love seats. What ever will a memorial read? What will it say that these men died trying to save? Its a such a shame. I for one wouldn't allow my loved one to be memorialized for someone else's poor machismo policy.

Peace and love to the families.

Posted by: anonymous at July 4, 2007 07:51 AM

First, I think it is absolutely ridiculous that our city government is going to buy the site of the Sofa Super Store. I don't think our tax money should benefit the man who joined these 2 buildings inappropriately and without a proper permit. Permits are issued for a reason - to make sure structures are built correctly with safety in mind. When the owner of these buildings joined them he created a chimney for the fire to travel from the back warehouse to the front store - big mistake. I don't think he should get a dime for his property!

I would much rather see him donate the land, if anything. If it is donated there should be a fire station there, not a park. Chief Rusty Thomas put a challenge out to the Department, to everyone in Charleston - Never forget! He also talked about how important it is for us to live by the example of these men - to serve the public, our community, each other. How can a park do this?

THE CHARLESTON NINE FIRE STATION is what needs to be built there if anything!! It should include a training room/classroom where the public, businesses, and schools could attend fire safety classes.

This is how we can live by example of service to our fellow neighbors, not by building a park that people will forget. In time it will become part of the scenery that you pass by on your way to work. The city will have to maintain it, but will it be appreciated in 20 years when the next generation of Charlestonians grows up?

A fire station becomes part of its community. Chief Rusty Thomas said so at the memorial service. We all know it to be true. It's been proven these past 2 weeks since the fire occurred with flowers, signs, cards, and lots of food (much of it homemade) being brought to the doors of fire stations all around the Low Country, not just to the stations that lost men.

A station that can serve the community, and honor these nine heroes needs to be the memorial left behind.

As the wife of a Charleston firefighter, and knowing how these guys, these firefights love their job, I'm sure they wouldn't want it any other way.

Posted by: J. Taylor at July 5, 2007 10:49 PM

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