The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
County Council, December 3
Council meetings need to be more transparent!
Adams Run project deferred again and Kiawah Project approvedWarwick Jones
Yesterday’s meetings of the Finance Committee and Planning and Public Works Committee were long. It was not because of debate or discussion – indeed there was little of either. It was long executive sessions from which the public were excluded.
There were a large number of citizens present at the meetings. Most had come to witness the Committee’s vote on the controversial construction-waste land fill at Adams Run. Many had attended the public hearings on the issue. According to the Post and Courier, over 200 citizens attended the public hearing earlier this week with the majority opposing the land fill. And according to some of those in attendance last night, those who spoke in favor at the public hearing were friends and business associates of the developer.
One of the executive sessions was over issues relating to the potential Adams Run land fill. Council member Condon subsequently moved that the item be deferred because of health issues and Council agreed unanimously. But we felt a silent groan from those in attendance as they wondered what game Council was playing by yet again delaying a decision.
But for those hoping for a rejection by Council, there was encouragement. Informed opinion was that prior to last night, Council was in favor of the land fill, with only Council members Schweers, Inabinett and Rawl opposed. The deferral could suggest that support on Council is wavering, perhaps not surprising in the face of such public opposition.
Executive sessions – legitimate reasons or to hide debate?
But if there is growing hope, there is also growing derision. Why are the Committees going into executive session? There may be some issues from which the public may legitimately be excluded. But do the sessions have to be so long? Are Council members trying to hide something? Too often, the public is hearing no debate or discussion on issues. And as it happened last night, the Chairman of each committee returns from an executive sessions and declares that no decision was taken. There is a banal sentence that is offered as an explanation. But the public is offered no understanding as to why Council votes unanimously thereafter on the issue.
Council’s image is suffering
The lack of transparency in debate and discussion on an issue such as the Adams Run land fill is not helping the image of Council. When citizens don’t know what is going on, they speculate. And Council may not like to hear as to some of the conclusions of citizens. Are there side deals with the developer? Are there deals being arranged amongst Council members? Council members may be discussing the issues with the greatest of goodwill and integrity, but citizens may conclude otherwise. And if they do, Council may be largely responsible.
The details of the proposed land fill have been extensively reported in the Post and Courier and elsewhere. Suffice to say here is that the owner has applied to make a 102 acre site on Highway 17 S near Parkers Ferry Road a dump for construction waste. The site is part of a 313 acre property which also includes wetlands. Many residents of the largely African American community are opposed to the site, as is the Coastal Conservation League. They fear contamination from the dumped materials, particularly from treated lumber and plaster board. The proximity to wetlands and inclusion in the Ace Basin are also noted.
Kiawah project gets the nodThe other major matter before the Planning and Public Works Committee yesterday was the large Kiawah River Plantation development, a project shaped by the Beach Company and which will adjoin its existing Kiawah development. Again, the details of the plan have been widely reported. The development tract is 1428 acres. A golf course is planned along with 1285 homes, and a hotel and villas with an aggregate 450 rooms. The present zoning of the tract would allow 1942 dwelling units according to staff.
The Planning Commission approved the project though imposed a number of conditions on the Planned Development, all of which the Committee approved. Council, which formed in a special meeting on the completion of the public hearing, had issue only on two of these – relating to Sewage and Tax Increment Financing. The waste water treatment for the project had not been determined but Council member Schweers asked that now that the County was seeking to become a designated management agency, would it retain a role in shaping the nature of the waste water treatment. Staff said yes. The Planned Development also sought the creation of a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District. Council suggested that the wording be changed to “may create”.
Only one member of the public rose to speak at the public hearing last night on the project and he opposed it. We were puzzled there were not more as approval will hasten the urbanization of Johns Island. But with the willingness of the developer to build a lesser number of dwelling units than the present zoning regulations allow made opposition harder to support.
Why is a TIF district being contemplated?
We were surprised that a TIF District was even being contemplated by Council. Usually these districts are created to help blighted areas such as the Neck area where the City of Charleston has created a TIF district. Under the TIF, property taxes that are derived from the development are used to finance infrastructure in the district. For example, if initially 100 houses were built and sold, the property taxes on these dwellings derived by the County normally would go to the General Fund and used for general County purposes. Under the TIF, the funds would flow back to the TIF district.
We ask why the Beach Company will be given such a concession. It is a well heeled company and with deep roots in Charleston. The area it is developing is hardly blighted and the company is doing no social favor for the community in developing the 1428 acre tract. Indeed it is doing it for profit – which is fine! But why should the County help the profitability of the Beach Company at the expense of other County tax payers?