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City Council, September 26

Unusual gift to the City
Mayor out of contact with constituents over fate of Chief?
Marc Knapp

Not surprisingly, matters relating to the Sofa Store fire consistently come up at Council meetings. Last night, Council applauded City businessman Gene Reed for his $228,000 contribution to buy new uniforms for the City Fire Department (CFD). Mr. Reed expressed sympathy for the victims of the fire and great praise for the CFD, Chief "Rusty" Thomas and Mayor Riley. He said the members of the CFD should be “more rewarded than they are”.

Why to the City and not to the firefighters?
It was a generous gift but why to the City? Why not to the firefighters’ relatives or directly to the City firefighters if they are not adequately rewarded? Mr. Reed’s gift was unusual. But Mr. Reed’s behavior has not always been usual. He made news earlier this year when he took a late model BMW on a spin and without the owner’s permission. The owner thought that Mr. Reed was taking the car for a short drive but Mr. Reed took it home and that is where the police found it. We do not know whether Read was charged with any offence or a charge is pending. But it was an unusual event and well covered in the local press.

It may well be a coincidence, but Mr. Matt Compton of the City Parks and Recreation Department spoke of the tightness of City funds as he presented ng the City’s plan for seeking Greenbelt funding. We have been hearing of hiring freezes and austerity in City departments. It is nothing to do with tightening management or greater efficiency, but an attempt to deal with the financial burden imposed by the Sofa Store fire, in particular, the concomitant compensation and benefits to the relatives of the lost firefighters.

Poll indicates lack of support for retention of Chief Thomas
We must have missed it at last night’s meeting but the Post and Courier reported this morning that Mayor Riley continued to support Chief Rusty Thomas and added that only one person has sought his ouster. We presume he was referring to Council Member Fishburne who has been a strong critic of the Mayor and the Chief since the fire. Interesting in its omission from the P&C this morning was the survey conducted by TV Channel 2. The station polled 1268 persons and 75% of the respondents stated that they thought that Chief Rusty Thomas should go. Sort of suggests that Mayor Riley is out of touch with his constituents and/or very selective in whose opinion he seeks!


More applications for greenbelt funds

The City is planning 3 applications for greenbelt funds, one of which is a re-application. The first application related to a 212 acre tract adjacent to the proposed Long Savannah development in West Ashley and adjoining the property that the Parks and Recreation Department proposed to acquire for a park. The original application made by the City was for $1.2 million from the Greenbelt Bank but was later withdrawn. The new application is split into 2 parts and will cause some head scratching at the County. The property to be acquired is on the rural side of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and qualifies only for “rural” financing from the Greenbelt Bank. But the City is applying for $1.2 million from the Bank and $1.2 million from the Urban Grants Review Committee. Presumably it is arguing that the developer, supported by the City, is seeking the movement of the UGB to encompass the Long Savannah development and the parcel to be acquired by the City So let’s see how this works – the City gets $1.2 million now because of the “rural” classification and another $1.2 million because the UGB will be shifted to make the park fall in the urban side?

The County has begun the task of updating its Comprehensive Plan, a process that will take over a year. The consultants hired to undertake the task may well recommend moving the UGB. But it will also require approval from County Council. It seems to me that the City’s application is somewhat presumptive particularly as there are many citizens who want the UGB to stay where it is.

The other proposed financings were in West Ashley and the Neck area and relatively non-controversial. The lots in West Ashley encompass 9.17 acres and are on Woodland Road near Highway 61. The cost is $1.3 million and the City is seeking the full amount from Urban Grants Review Committee. The cost is $150,000 below appraised value. The lot in the Neck is near the Magnolia Development. Originally the City was planning to seek $2.8 million but is now seeking $3.88 million, the full purchase price for the 32 acre lot. The property runs along the Ashley River next to the Dolphin Cove Marina. The appraised value according to staff is $5.7 million.

Mayor promises it will not be a precedent
The only other issue before Council was the coalescing of two 50 room hotels on the Ansonborough Field Development into a single 100 room hotel. Two speakers, one of which was representing the Preservation Society opposed this. They noted that the City had an ordinance that limited hotels below Calhoun Street to 50 rooms. Why was the ordinance being ignored? Was this a precedent for larger-than -50 room hotels.

The City – staff and the Mayor - said it was not a precedent. They continued to support the limitation. But the situation on Ansonborough Field was unique. The coalescing was needed to improve the efficiency of the hotel operation and to presumably help the developer.

We would add that the 50 room limit was imposed to restrain traffic congestion on the lower Peninsula. Also, the City indicated that only one 50 room hotel was planned when the charrette was held to discuss the development back in 2001. How did it become two hotels? And of course, there is little argument that the coalescing of two hotels would add to better efficiencies. But that was not the point. But so much for City promises.

Council member Fishburne also expressed some concern but said in voting for the proposal that he was only voting for it to go the Planning Commission. The public would have an opportunity to express their views at that time. But he too was concerned that approval for a 100 room hotel would be seen as a precedent.

$4 million grant, and Ken Griffey Sr. in town
Two other matters. The Mayor acknowledged that the City was to receive a $4 million Federal Grant towards financing the drainage mitigation for the Spring and Fishburne Street Basin drainage project. The grant follows the passage of the Water Resources Development Act. He expressed hope that the City would qualify for more funding. The cost of the Spring Fishburne project is projected at over $100 million.

Mayor Riley noted the attendance at last night’s meeting of Ken Griffey Sr., a prominent baseball star and father of the even more prominent Ken Griffey Jr. Mr. Griffey was in the City to discuss opportunities for the Ken Griffey Sr. Foundation and the creation of playgrounds. He got a standing ovation.

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