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County Council, July 16

Council amends text of zoning ordinance
Legal outcome uncertain but height of Bees Ferry Landfill may prove moot
Warwick Jones

Council last night passed the first reading of the proposed text amendments to its Zoning and Land Development Regulations. The changes were prompted by a revocation earlier this year by an Administrative Law judge of a permit issued by DHEC allowing the County to expand the height of the Bees Ferry Landfill to 168’. The revocation followed on the judge’s view that the County was breaching its own zoning regulations.

We are not sure what happens now. The County attorney said last night that the amendments to the text were simply to clarify the language of the ordinance and to allow the County to continue doing what it had been doing since the major Ordinance change in 1999. An attorney representing a landowner whose property abutted the Bees Ferry site claimed that if the changes were designed to circumvent the Administrative Law judge’s ruling it would fail.

To recapitulate, the Bees Ferry dump and the Incinerator at North Charleston are the vital parts of the County’s waste disposal system. Earlier this year, the Council reaffirmed its decision to close the incinerator largely because of the pollution and problems it generated for communities in North Charleston. The closure will occur at the end of this year. Assuming nothing else changes, this leaves the Bees Ferry Dump as the major recipient of the Counties solid waste. And earlier this year, Council approved a plan to increase the height of the dump by about 100% to 168’. Understandably, this raised the ire of property owners nearby. Their ire was expressed at earlier meetings, and last night at the public hearing.

We won’t pretend to understand the nuances of the legal discussion/argument last night. But the lawyers for property owners argued the land fill was a “non conforming use’ and can only be allowed by Special Exception approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals. One of the lawyers accused staff of “hoodwinking” the Council, an accusation that did not go over well with Council.

It did not go over well with County Attorney Dawson who aggressively defended the County’s action. He claimed that under the existing ordinance, any use legally established before April 21 1999 and in a Zoning District that requires a Special Exception should not be considered a “non conforming use” and did not require a Special Exception.

Council member Darby was the first to defend staff against the accusation of “hoodwinking”. He also stated as did Council member Mc Keown that the staff had been tasked to come up with options to deal with the land fill problem. Neither Council member said what these options might be. But Council member Darby expressed sympathy for the citizens who lived near the dump and expressed the opinion that the dump would never rise to the 168’ level. Acceptable alternatives would be found and defined. We understand that the staff report is due within the next 2 months. Almost certainly this will include a greater degree of recycling. But beyond that we are not sure; it could include a mega–dump in an adjoining county.

Council members Rawl and Condon voted against the amendments last night. Council member Rawl was not so concerned about the potential height of the dump but more the width of the road serving Bees Ferry, the drainage problems, and the large number of trucks using the dump. The Bees Ferry Dump is in his district.

Council to look again at contractor and subcontractor fees
It was encouraging to see Council members concerned about the high level of fees imposed on contactors and subcontractors working in the unincorporated sections of the County. Under the proposed ordinance, a contractor is required to pay a $50 fee for every job he undertakes in the areas. But as well, all subcontractors are liable for a $25 fee. Some Council members found this to be too rich.

As Council member McKeon asked: what was the purpose of the fee? Was it to generate revenue or was it to defray the cost of inspection. He would have liked to see a far more modest fee for subcontractors or for contractors to submit a list of subcontractors whose credentials the County could check. He also noted that if safety were an issue, didn’t building inspectors inspect jobs on completion. Didn’t this fulfill the County’s obligation?

Staff was to look again at the fee collection and determine if fees could be lowered to make the department revenue neutral.

County applies for $1.527 million grant for Port Security
Taking advantage of the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the County is applying for a $1.527 million Port Security Grant. Essentially to beef up security at Charleston’s ports, it will encompass the hiring of 4 Full time employees. The funds will also be used to purchase 2 vessels and 8 marine engines.

Council member Condon seemed to be the only Council member that had any concern about the grant but failed to dent Sheriff Cannon’s reasoning. The grant was not conditional on maintaining expenditures beyond their expiration in 2012. And the 2 boats are needed as replacements for retired aged boats. Council had already approved their replacement when it approved a grant application that proved later to be unsuccessful. The Sheriff pointed out that Sheriff Offices were becoming the prime focus of Homeland Security efforts to boost port security. He mentioned also the objective of integrating efforts of all law enforcement agencies in relation to Port security.

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