The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, June 16

New restriction on parking near property entrances
Issues on zoning, and contract for Arthur Christopher Center

Warwick Jones

Council is now on its summer schedule of one meeting a month for the next 3 months. Normally there are two meetings a month and business is usually dispensed within a few hours. But the summer meetings are invariably longer with an agenda that is accumulated over a month rather than about 2 weeks.

We wonder about the wisdom of the summer schedule. The seats in Council are hard and not conducive to long sessions. And how many folk can sit for 4 hours or more and still debate and discuss the issues before them with diligence and responsibility? The latter qualities are slowly replaced by boredom, disinterest and discomfort. As so often happens, the last items on the agenda are quickly dispensed so members and the public can return home at a reasonable hour. And so it happened last night. There was only a cursory discussion about an ordinance that will make it “unlawful for a person to stop, stand or park any vehicle in front of any public or private driveway or within 3 feet of either side thereof, or on the opposite side of any public or private driveway in such a manner as to inhibit the entry or departure from such driveway”.

New parking ordinance may be a problem to enforce
We can understand the need for such an ordinance but is that proposed too open-ended or insufficiently defined? It seemed the issue was not the direct blocking of the entrance to a property but rather the space on the other side of the street. Some streets in the City are narrow and for a car to exit a property, the space on the other side of the street should be clear. But won’t the size of a vehicle entering and exiting make a difference? A full size SUV may need more space that a compact? And what will be the loss of parking space in some streets if the ordinance is enforced? It seems the application of the new ordinance could be very subjective

The issue was the last item on the agenda and was unanimously approved without much discussion. We think it deserved much more than it got.

Is NBM favored by City for construction contracts?
Some Council members made much of the fact that the City planned to award the contract to construct the Arthur Christopher Community Center on Harmon Field to NBM Construction. NBM received the contracts to renovate/restore the Dock Street Theatre and City Hall. The members suggested that the receipt of these large contracts seemed more than a coincidence. Council member Gallant also questioned as to whether more could be done to involve minority contractors. NBM estimated MBE participation at 21.3%.

NBM was the second lowest bidder at $5.52 million. The lowest bid came from Complete Building Corporation at $4.99 million. But after placing the bid, it notified the City that it had made an error of $353,000 and it withdrew its bid. Eleven firms bid and the margin between the bids was low. Emory J. Infinger & Associates was the 3rd lowest bidder at $5.550 million and Palmetto Construction, the 4th lowers at $5.555 million. The highest bid was $6.414 million.

Mayor Riley defended the award to NBM. He praised the work that it did and said there was no favoritism involved. He noted that there were other City contracts for which the firm had bid and lost. The firm was locally owned and well experienced in the Charleston market. He also noted that the City had budgeted $6.9 million for the cost, and as staff noted, the recession had taken a toll of the local economy and prices were generally lower than when the original estimate was made.

Council member Lewis also reminded Council of the frequent change orders relating to the Dock Street Theatre and how this escalated the cost. He wondered whether such would occur at the Community Center. The Mayor said that it was not possible to identify all the problems initially in the restoration of an old building and change orders were common. But the Community Center was new construction, and change orders should be minimal.

Council was unanimous in awarding the contract to NBM.

Members surprised by lack of planning at Cainhoy
There was a lot of confusion in relation to a zoning issue at Cainhoy. Despite a number of speakers for both sides of the issue, Council member Shirley publicly stated that he remain confused and pressed relentlessly for clarification. He eventually got it and it was a surprise. There are properties at Cainhoy in the City that presently have no zoning classification. This precipitated Council to ask for immediate action to formulate a plan for Cainhoy and to respect the historic integrity of Cainhoy Village.

The immediate issue was a property of 5 acres that had been annexed into the City last year. The owner sought a Single Family Residential (SR1) classification. This allows a development of 4.8 units per acre. This was too much for nearby residents who opposed the zoning, even though they enjoyed a SR1 classification on their properties. The Planning Commission (PC) had also disapproved a SR1 zoning. The owner said that he was prepared to compromise at Rural Residential Zoning (RR1) which allowed 3.5 units per acre. This was probably still too much for some of the other residents of Cainhoy who pointed to densities of 2.1 units per acre on large nearby tracts. But as City staff pointed out, the latter figure could not be used for comparison. It was a broad figure and did not allow for the extraction of parks, commercial and other developments. The ultimate residential densities could be well above the 2.1 units per acre.

Residents spoke of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) under consideration in the area which would entail commercial and retail development and large stacks for storing boats. Council decided that this was a separate issue. It supported the decision of the PC to disapprove the SR1 zoning but agreed to send the issue back to the PC with a recommendation for RR1 zoning. Council member Wilson was not happy about the zoning, thinking it still was too dense. But Council members thought the property could not remain un-zoned and that the RR1 was the most appropriate.

No surprises in CARTA budget
CARTA submitted its budget for the year to September 2010. In our view there were no surprises. Download file

“The proposed FY 2010 budget builds upon the 2009 budget and with only minor increases in budget line items as service levels are forecast to remain the same with no increases. Any increases to service will have to be deployed with new funding sources or reductions in service in other areas.

“A fare increase in October of 2008 along with conservative budgeting principles utilized in 2009 and increases in Federal Transit Administration apportionments along with utilization of new grant sources have positioned CARTA to absorb more than $1 million in reductions” in proceeds from the County’s half-cent sales tax proceeds. The budget has also benefited from generally lower fuel costs.

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