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County Council, October 16, 2008

Another traffic study for Johns Island
Approval for Comprehensive Plan but not for Compensation Study
Warwick Jones

Some Johns Island residents are getting irate. How many times do they have to defend the encroachment of development on the island? Most thought the proposal for a Cross Island Parkway to more easily link Kiawah and Seabrook Island developments to the City of Charleston was dead. However, Council member Thurmond has no intention of letting it die despite Council’s lack of enthusiasm for its resuscitation.

A resolution to the SCDOT
Council member Thurmond last night proposed a resolution to the SC Department of Transportation asking that it “do all things necessary or helpful to enter into an agreement for the study, planning, development construction and operation of a limited access Cross Island toll road on Johns Island".

Council listened to his argument for the Crossway. His points have been made and reported before – the congestion and safety hazards on existing roads, the need to reduce traveling time to Seabrook and Kiawah, the need to preserve the tree canopies on Main Road and Maybank Highway, and to limit development on Johns Island.

Some sharp comments by Council member
Council members Inabinett and Condon spoke against the proposal, spurring some sharp comments by Council member Thurmond. More cross examination than discussion, his retort to Council member Condon, suggesting that she chose to ignore the favorable comment in a report to which he referred, was particularly bitter.

Council member Inabinett stated that he was once favorably inclined to the Crossway but now was uncertain. He had spoken to his constituents and they did not favor the plan. He said he could not vote for it until he had 2 questions answered - the location of the egress/ingress points along the highway and the number of properties and landowners that would be affected? In turn, he suggested that the whole issue of roads on Johns Island be studied and the participants in the study should include the state, the County, municipalities and the public.

Council agrees to a general traffic study
After rejecting Council member Thurmond’s resolution, the Finance Committee agreed to Council member Inabinett’s proposal, with Council members Thurmond, Scott and Pryor voting against. The three Council members were the only supporters of Council member Thurmond’s resolution.

The issue of the Cross Island Expressway is not dead and it is conceivable that the study endorsed by the Finance Committee will allow the issue to be again discussed. But discussions with some of those attending last night’s meeting suggest a lot of “grass root” opposition to the proposal. One Johns Islander said he had never seen the community so galvanized in opposition to an issue as that against the Expressway.

Comprehensive Plan approved
The Finance Committee last night had before it the final draft of the Comprehensive Plan, designed to guide future development of the County. The Plan has been some months in the making and was shaped by a consultant with input from County staff, citizens and municipalities. And indeed, from comments made at the last public hearing, and reproduced for benefit of Council members, the Plan was strongly endorsed.

Council members had no major issues with the plan though Council member Schweers had some minor suggestions. He also endorsed the staff recommendation for restrictions relating to development on Edisto Island and the revision proposed for "Developments of County Significance". The parcel size for such a development was to be increased from 500 to 1000 acres and that a Development of Significance was required to set aside 75% of the land to be permanently restricted for open space. We note the staffs comment that “the process of Developments of Significance is not mandatory unless the applicant wants to deviate from the recommendation included in the adopted Plan”.

Need to show that City forced the change in UGB
Council member Schweers also spoke about the need to record the fact that the movement of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) indicated in the Plan, had come about by the unilateral action of the City of Charleston and not because of any decision of County Council. In our opinion, the ability of the City of Charleston to arbitrarily move the UGB is possibly the biggest threat to the efficacy of the plan. Some of the public asked that placement of the boundary be given some force of law. But we understand that this may not be possible.

More formal policy adopted for Accommodation Fee funding
The Finance Committee also approved a staff recommendation in relation to applications for Accommodation Fee funding. This has been a contentious issue, particularly to us who feel that the system has been abused. Staff was instructed some months ago to join with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to reshape Council policy and the application process. This has been done and the new application form was presented to the Committee last night. Council also authorized the CVB, in conjunction with the College of Charleston’s office of Tourism Management, to advise on the applications starting with those for FY 2010.

Understandably, applications will now be subject to tighter evaluation and assessment as to the benefit that funding from the Accommodation fee will help the tourist industry. Applicants now are required to be either a Government Agency or a 501 © Non profit.

With a budget deficit looming, County defers Compensation Study spending
The Committee also voted to defer the long touted Compensation Study. This study had been called for some time ago and the County has set aside $300,000 to finance it. The study was put out to bid and there were 5 bidders. However, despite the fact that the bids were significantly below the $300,000, Council decided to defer any action. Council Member Darby., one of the more vocal proponents of the study said that with the County facing a serious deficit this year, such spending should be deferred. Council member Thurmond also endorsed the proposal saying that if raises were proposed to adjust discrepancies, there would be no funds to finance them. He also said that with the economy declining, people would be more concerned about keeping jobs rather than obtaining salary increases. Council member Condon spoke in a similar vein, drawing some jocular comments as to her unusual support for Council member Thurmond.

Council member Schweers however spoke against the deferral. It was necessary and besides, how could we be so sure that big adjustments were necessary? He said the Administrator has requested the funding because of the need for the study. We should support him. But the Committee thought otherwise and voted for an indefinite delay.