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City Council, September 14

Easy passage of amended Union Pier Plan
Landlords and property managers on notice

Marc Knapp

Discussion and citizen comments over a resolution relating to the Union Pier Plan took up much of last nightís Council meeting. Some of the comments by citizens were heated, but the discussion on Council was not. Although some Council members professed concern about some aspects, all voted for the resolution which had been amended slightly from that contained in the agenda package.

The amendments were proposed by Council member White who confessed to taking many calls from constituents both for and against the proposal. In an attempt to placate those hostile to the resolution, references to cruise ships were largely deleted and the focus maintained on the actual Union Pier development. However, perhaps the most criticized sentence relating to State Port Authority (SPA) management of the cruise business was retained. To see a copy of the amended resolution press here. Go to the last paragraph to see the retained sentence.

Debate over cruise ships and their impact on the environment has been on going for a year or so since the SPA announced the intention to redevelop its Union Pier property. Concomitant with this development was the construction of a new pier north of the existing pier and with the capacity and infrastructure to berth only one cruise ship with a maximum passenger complement of about 3,500.

It seems few people had issue with the plans to develop the Union Pier property, or indeed the construction of a new terminal. But many thought that Federal and International regulations were not enough to ensure that cruise ships did not pollute the waterways or air. They also thought that the City needed a Memorandum of Understanding or and Ordinance defining the responsibilities of the cruise ship lines.

The Coastal Conservation League has been a prominent and strident critic of the plan Ė at least to the absence of what it feels are adequate pollution controls and adequate legislation limiting cruise ship visits and the size of ships. The Preservation Society lined up behind CCL and recently published a position paper that was similar to that of CCL. Spokespersons from both organizations were present last night and spoke against the Plan. They were joined by a number of citizens.

Representatives of the SPA, the Chamber of Commerce, King Street Merchants Association, organized labor, and citizens, spoke for the resolution. They cited the economic benefits of cruise ship visits, the increase in employment opportunities, the creation of open space and the removal of some very ugly buildings. They repudiated the claim that cruise ships would pollute the environment and that the SPA could increase the number of cruise ship visits from a maximum of two a week, or increase the maximum ship size from a passenger complement of 3500 to 5000. If the SPA wanted to change anything that it referred to in letters to the City, the SPA would seek public input and bring the matter before Council. This promise was good enough for the proponents of the Plan, and seemingly for City Council members.

When it came to Council discussion, there was enthusiastic support for the amended resolution. The amendments had been added just prior to the meeting and differed from that in the agenda packet for citizens. The amendments were for the better in our view but probably did not go far enough to silence all the critics.

Understandably, the Mayor spoke in favor of the resolution. Without it there would be no Union Pier Development - cruise ships were an integral part of it. Without the proposed visits, up to 2 a week, there would be no development and none of the benefits that came with the plan Ė the creation of open space, the removal of the aged warehouses, the relocation of the BMW loading area to North Charleston and the cessation of trains trips, the substantial reduction in truck and car journeys related to the port.

The Mayor also spoke of his surprise at the hyperbole of the opponents (read CCL) and their misrepresentations. He also took exception from a citizen who criticized the Union Pier Plan because it brought in a class of tourist that we was not compatible with the Charleston brand i.e. they didnít have much money to spend. Council member Lewis also took strong exception to the citizenís view.

Only Council member Gregorie questioned the Plan. He asked for a deferral of consideration because he had heard conflicting views in relation to pollution control. He also wanted more details in relation to ordinances brought about by other cities or States in the US. These were answered by the Mayor, other Council members and staff though we are not sure to his total satisfaction.

We thought Council member Seekings might be an opponent of the Plan but he came out strongly for the amended resolution. The SPA came before us some month ago and Council asked it to do certain things, he said. It listened to us and made the proposed changes. We now need to move forward with the Plan. He said as did the Mayor, that the resolution was only the first and necessary step in implementing the Plan. Other issues would be discussed as they arise and would relate to some raised by the present opponents of the plan.

All other Council members spoke enthusiastically about the plan and its benefits. We too endorse the plan, I and my associate Warwick Jones spoke for it. In my view we live in a Port City. So to the opponents of the Plan, deal with it!

Landlords and property managers on notice
There were two other items on the agenda that probably would have been discussed more but for the time taken over the Union Pier Plan. One was brought about by the habit of students leaving junk and trash outside their residences. Present ordinances were not deemed sufficient by members of the Radcliffborough neighborhood whose residents number many students. It wanted landlords and property managers also to be responsible as well as tenants. And that indeed was what the new ordinance, approved by Council, does. Renters are still liable for infringements of ordinances. But managers and owners are also on notice and cannot ignore the action of tenants. They too will be liable for fines. Press Download file to see the amendment .

The amendment to the existing ordinance seems drastic but how else can the City act to stop the action of irresponsible tenants? It is likely that renters will be asked to make larger up-front deposits to help cover the liability that managers/owners will now have. However, deposits made by existing tenants may not be enough to make whole managers/owners in the event of a prosecution.

And donít obstruct right-of-ways
The other amendment related to the use of public right of ways. According to Chief Mullen, the existing ordinance does sufficiently limit the use of public right of ways. Some enterprises use them for storage of crates, boxes, and other items. Some (bars, clubs) allow their patrons to gather on the right-of-way. The amendment now makes these things an infringement.