The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch


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City Council, January 25

Council ignores plea for peace by Town of James Island
New Bed and Breakfast area created
Marc Knapp

It was a great speech. Not the State of the City address which as usual, was scripted, long on substance and short on fire, No, it was the Mayor’s speech closing the debate on the merits of opposing the incorporation of the Town of James Island (T of JI). It was unscripted, and long on substance, fire and passion. To give up now, the Mayor said would be “beyond ridiculous“.

A briefing on the township issue was on the agenda at the request of a Council member we believe. The SC Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the arguments of both the City and the T of JI on February 2 and a decision is expected a month or so thereafter. Mayor Woolsey was in attendance last night and in Citizen’s Participation spoke of the need of peace between the sparring municipalities. The fight could go on indefinitely. Should the Town lose the case, it was likely that new legislation would be prepared in Columbia to allow a new incorporation. The City could again appeal but inevitably, high legal costs would be incurred by both sides.

Tim Domin, legal counsel for the City gave the briefing to the Council and spoke of the previous two efforts to halt the incorporation of the Town, He believed that the legislation creating the Town was flawed and that the Town had not fulfilled the letter of the law in incorporation in its third incarnation. He said that if the City lost this case, there would be no room for an appeal. In responding to questions from Council members, the Mayor and CFO Bedard indicated that some $205,000 had been spent so far in this round of litigation. The cost of attending the hearing in Columbia to present arguments was relatively minor at an estimated $5000 to $6000. The other cost of the incorporation was the annual loss to the City of about $550,000 a year in the Local Option Sales Tax which is usually fully applied to offsetting property tax bills. Mayor Riley also opined that if the Supreme Court sided with the City, it would be difficult for the State legislature to again re-craft legislation to allow the T of JI to incorporate. The size, in terms of population, of the Town had diminished over years and new legislation would have to take this into account. The legislation would also be opposed by many other municipalities in the State as it would need to change in relation to annexations.

There is no doubt that some Council members were sympathetic to Mayor Woolsey’s plea. We understand that some members were prepared to abandon the hearing before the Supreme Court and make peace immediately with the T of JI. But nobody made such a motion and it seemed to us, that after the debate and the Mayor’s speech, there would have been insufficient support.

Council members Gregorie signaled some sympathy for the township when he said every body is favor of self determination, He wondered how we got into the litigation issue Mayor Riley had no hesitation to claiming responsibility. Council member Gallant spoke of the cry for peace and the need to respond. And Council member Riegel declared his sympathy for the township, but probably in response to comments for the Mayor and others, thought it better to wait for the Supreme Court decision.

Council member Lewis was the most vocal of the Council members supporting the continuation of the case – at least until after the Supreme Court decided. What happened after that was up to Council and from our reading of Council, few if any members wished to pursue the issue further.

Mayor Riley held little back when he summed up...He spoke of the City of Charleston being the core of the area. The T of JI was in the City of Charleston. The City provided so many amenities and services on James Island. He read out many - parks, recreation centers, tennis courts etc. They were available to both the residents of the City and the Town. But all of these were financed by City funds, not by the Town’s. The residents of the Town indeed made no contribution to facilities that they enjoyed, yet they had equal access to these services. He ridiculed the incorporation of James Island. If it could incorporate, why couldn’t Daniel Island or the Town of West Ashley?

He questioned the contiguity of the properties that made up the Town, that its boundaries were inappropriate, created over creeks and marshland and that many of the Town’s properties were surrounded by those of the City. To give up now was “beyond ridiculous, (it was) awful”,

New B&B area approved
Council last night agreed to amend the Ordinance relating to Bed and Breakfasts. The amendment would allow the establishment of B&Bs in part of the Elliottborough/Radcliffborough area and not comply with the more stringent requirements the existing ordinance. The changes were sought by the neighborhood associations as a way to refurbish and renovate properties, many of which are neglected and run down. According to a spokesman for one of the Neighborhood Associations, there were some large decaying Victorian structures that could very well lend themselves to development as B&Bs.

The existing ordnance confines B&Bs to structures built before 1860. This will not apply to those in the Elliottborough and Radcliffborough areas . However, they will have to comply with most of the other regulations, in particular, the provision of off-street parking... This was the major concern of some Council members who noted the present problem of finding parking in the area.

State of City address
Finally the Mayor’s State of the City address. It was televised .and the P&C wrote about it this morning. We have little to add. The Mayor highlighted the achievements of the City of the last year and of the plans for the future. As he has been in the past addresses, he was optimistic about the City’s future. He has reason to be. He began his address by noting the number of magazines that has ranked Charleston amongst the top cities in the US and in one case, in the world, in terms of livability, tourist destination and quality of its restaurants. He spoke of Boeing and South West Airlines, the potential benefits, of the Digital Corridor, drainage improvements, cruise ships, the Gaillard Auditorium renovation and much more. What he could have added was the good shape of the City fiscally. We can’t say that the City came through the recession without scars, Staff ranks have been thinned and probably will need to be thinned further, But looking at other cities, Charleston has much to be thankful for.