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City Council. January 26

Cal/Cooper Plan approved with no debate
No zoning change to be placed before Council until Task Force can review
Marc Knapp

There was limited satisfaction for those seeking a deferral on the hearing on the Calhoun Street/ Cooper River Waterfront (Cal/Coop) Plan. In one sense, it was very clear cut loss- the Council voted unanimously for the Plan despite the request for a deferral by the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Preservation Society and others. They argued that the plan should not be implemented until the Task Force, agreed to by the Mayor, was in place and an outline of other plans for the Eastern edge of the peninsula had been defined.

But Council member White offered a palliative. He suggested that no change of zoning should be consiudered by Council until the Task Force was in place and that the Task Force had an opportunity to review any proposed change. The Mayor said he was agreeable. In discussions subsequent to the Council meeting, Council member White said that the Cal/Coop Plan was just that – a plan. The vote last night did not mean that it became an ordinance though we had to struggle reconciling this with the fact that the plan was to be wrapped up in the Century V Plan of the City - this Plan is an Ordinance. The Council member said that his suggestion and the Mayor’s acceptance would be contained in the minutes of last night's meeting. There would therefore be a record to which citizens could hold the Mayor accountable.

Hmmmmm??

Accommodation Overlay will be extended but with conditions
Council member Mitchell also proposed an amendment to the Plan relating specifcally to the Accommodation Overlay extension into Wraggborough. He noted that he represented the district and it was difficult for him because the community was split as to the merits of a hotel on the corner of East Bay Street and Calhoun Street. He moved that the dwelling units that were to serve as a buffer along Alexander Street, and agreed to be Mr. J Rivers, the ownerof the property, are to be built before or concurrently with a hotel and that the ingress/egress to the hotel should be only on E. Bay Street. If the SCDOT did not approve the entrance on E. Bay Street, the hotel was a dead issue. Also these conditions would apply even if there is a change in ownership. Council backed him unanimously.

We confess surprise that there was little discussion of the Cal/Coop Plan and the role of the Task Force The Post and Courier in two editorials supported a deferral to allow further consideration, particularly with the proposed formation of a Task Force to “oversee” the potential developments on the eastern edge of the Peninsula. The HCF Forum indicated a large number of citizens concerned about these Plans .and those concerned included HANA, other neighborhood associations and the Preservation Society. Yet apart from the comment and suggestion by Council member White, there was no discussion.

State of City address
Last night’s Council meeting was interrupted for half an hour by the State of the City address by the Mayor. The address was televised and also fully covered in the Post and Courier this morning. We make little comment except to say that as usual, the Mayor painted an optimistic picture for the future of Charleston and lauded the achievements of the past year. We would take issue with his belief that we are along the way to economic recovery and his statement on job creation. I estimate the City created only 16 new jobs with the $16 million in stimulus money received. All the rest of the money just provided some temporary new work which is now complete, but no new jobs. We also noted that he said that the City had "received “a $20 million gift towards the renovation of the Gaillard Auditorium. Recently it was a promise, but now it is a promise realized, it seems.
Council member Gregorie questions time allowed for budget considerations
If there was an entertaining moment in last night proceedings, it was the response of the Mayor to questions and requests on the agenda posed by Council member Gregorie. The Council member asked that Council be given sufficient time to review the budget figures each year and sought 30 days in which to review the figures before voting. He and other Council members noted the difficulty in responsibly reviewing the figures in the time allowed in past years. We thought the request was reasonable but the Mayor was loathe to agree to anything without CFO Bedard’s consideration. He questioned whether there was much purpose in doing what the Council member requested particularly considering the strain on staff. Council member Gregorie responded by asking the Mayor whether he thought that giving Council another 2 weeks for review was not beneficial? The Mayor was not lost for words but we could make no sense out of any that followed.

Some other Council members supported Council member Gregorie. Council member Alexander suggested that a Budget Committee be formed similar to that of County Council that could participate in the budget process. This seemed to meet the approval of other members though perhaps not the Mayor. The issue was deferred so CFO Bedard could consider the request for more time.

Staff to work up eligibility and costs estimates for franchise fee rebate
In response to other questions of Council member Gregorie, staff is to prepare some suggestions for determining eligibility of a proposed rebate of the utility franchise fee for assistance to the poor and elderly. Staff was also to work up an estimate of administering the program and whether it could be undertaken by an existing agency such as Shelternet of the Humanities Foundation
Televising Council meetings now under consideration
We are not sure where the request for televising Council meetings went though we don’t believe it is dead. Apparently under the arrangement with Comcast, the latter will televise proceedings using one camera for no fee. However, with the low light in the Council chambers and the seating arrangement, it would be practical to have at least 3 cameras so viewers see more than the backs of heads. Staff said the cost of 3 cameras and an upgrading of the audio system would cost a one-time $125,000. The operating cost per year would be between $2500 and $5000. We are not sure how many would view the bi monthly broadcast but the option is a good idea. And the costs are hardly astronomical, at least at any other time than this year. Council member Gregorie asked for a trial run with the use of only single camera. Other Council members pointed out that Comcast did not serve all parts of the City. Some arrangement would need to be made with other broadcasters.
The Mayor’s unseemly intimidation
Citizens Participation brought a large number of citizens, most of whom spoke in relation to the Cal/Cooper Plan. My associate Warwick Jones also drew attention to what he and others believed was intimidation in the hearing on the Cal/Coop plan about a month ago. Council member Mitchell sought a deferral of the Plan but was assailed consistently by the Mayor and some other Council members to change his motion. He did not and Council acceded to his request. Mr. Jones described the Mayor action as unseemly and not right.
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