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City Council, January 22

Grimball Farms development approved
A pier to link Brittlebank Park to Bristol Marina
Marc Knapp

The agenda suggested it would be a short meeting. We were wrong. We forgot that the Mayor’s State of the City Address was scheduled, and failed to anticipate the discussion over the Grimball Farm development project. So our anticipated short meeting lasted for 4 hours.

Despite its length, the meeting inspired little worthwhile copy. Viewers may have seen, even read, the Mayor’s State of the City address. In our opinion, there was nothing new and we will make no attempt to cover it.

The Grimball Farm development has been in the works for some years and the Planning Commission approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) late last year. Briefly, the project entails the construction of 227 houses on a 932 acre site on James Island and close to the Stono River. However, only 344 acres of the site are highlands. The previous zoning was Conservation but the owners are now seeking a PUD designation.

An upscale development
There seems little doubt that the development will be up-scale. The density of dwellings will be slightly less than previously allowed (240). But there will also be the very generous provision of greenspace, particularly with the construction of a “signature“ golf course designed by Gary Palmer. The Development will also be surrounded by a wide green buffer zone that will aggregate 40 acres.

Most of those in the public that rose to make critical comment, did not attack the project but only some aspects. There was concern on the part of nearby residents about the likely large volume of traffic, the need for traffic lights, and also potential runoff of storm water.

Consultants see few problems
The engineering consultant to the developer stated that traffic studies suggested no potential traffic problems. It also opined that likely purchasers would be retirees and use their cars infrequently. Traffic lights were another issue and traffic volumes were likely to be lower than the threshold mandated by the State to allow installation of lights. The consultant also assured the public that run-off would not be a problem.

There appeared to also be some difference amongst the public about the efforts of the developer to consult surrounding residents. One group also claimed that the developer has failed to fulfill an earlier agreement to provide a community hall. Another group said that this had been fulfilled when a local church agreed to build a community hall, presumably with the help of the developer.

On Urban side of County-defined UGB
We had some concern when we saw that the development was on the Rural side of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and thought it was another attempt by the City to ignore the agreement with the County. But the project in within the Urban side of the UGB defined by the County but strangely on the Rural of the City’s UGB.

Council unanimously approved the PUD but some Council members noted that the approval was for a “conceptual design” and promised to be receptive to citizens; concerns as the development moved forward.

Short notice on construction of new pier
Some Council members were not happy about both the short notice and seeming urgency of an immediate decision in relation to the construction of a pier linking Brittlebank Park to the Bristol Marina. Council members probably had something in their packages but the packages for the pubic contained nothing about the issue.

After being told that the decision that evening was final and there would not be second and third readings as in normal for ordinances, Council member Gilliard suggested that a vote be deferred. He needed more time for consideration and in particular, to allow consultation with neighborhood groups.

Mayor states urgency is a consideration
The Mayor then noted the urgency of a decision. It was hoped that construction begins by the beginning of the month to allow completion by early April, to allow the use of the pier for the upcoming Boat show and the Dragon Boat race. Delaying the decision would threaten this plan.

The Mayor also noted that the construction of the pier has been part of the City’s plan for years. It will be a "walking" pier with a gazebo at its end. The pier will also be suitable for launching kayaks. In the longer term, the City hoped to create a trail/walkway around the City. Brittlebank Park would be connected ultimately via the pier, to a pathway over the Ashley River Bridges. In turn it would connect to trails being developed in West Ashley.

Bristol to meet the $535,000 cost and the City to repay
The cost of the pier is estimated at $535,000 and would be met initially by The Bristol - a development completed some years ago by the Beach Company. The City would repay that developer over a 10 year period and would pay a 5% annual interest rate on the outstanding balance. The repayments would be made from the increased revenue anticipated from the City Marina over the period.

The Mayor also referred to a 30 year lease of the City and an option of renewal for 2 periods of 30 years. The insurance payments related to the dock will be borne by the City and the maintenance by The Bristol. The Mayor also referred to the provision of 30 car parking spaces but which The Bristol can use on weekends.

After some confusion as to what the Council was voting on, Council ultimately voted to approve the construction but on the understanding that the neighborhood groups should consider the plan immediately and their approval be sent promptly to the City.

Our concern of no documents for public scrutiny
On the face of it, the construction of the new pier has merit. But it concerns us that no documents were released as to the agreement with The Bristol. On top of this, the urgency may be real but we also wonder why the matter did not come before Council at an earlier date. As with most dealings with the Beach Company, we are suspicious.

Why is City not joining in consolidating Emergency Dispatch services?
Considering the hour, there were few of us left in the chamber when it came to Citizens Participation. My Colleague Warwick Jones asked why the City was not joining the County in its effort to consolidate Emergency Dispatch services. After all, every other municipality in the County has joined up and the effort promised major savings to the City.

Because the City services are better
The Mayor responded that the quality of service promised by the County was below that presently provided the City. The City was watching the development and may reconsider it participation in future. Council member Shirley also chided Mr. Jones him in that if he had been at the last Council meeting, he would have known that he had asked the same question and received an answer from Police Chief Mullen similar to that of the Mayor’s.

The hazards of taking a vacation!