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City Council, December 20

Cityís investment in mid town paying off
Short-term accommodation rentals allowed in Commercial districts
Marc Knapp

An item related to a new parking garage on King Street prompted the short speech by the Mayor. A garage was to be built in response to the large number of development projects that were planned in the area. These were about to transform the mid-town parts of King and Meetings Streets, the Mayor said. He also noted that the City made a considerable investment in the midtown area, particularly in relation to infrastructure. He instanced the blue stone paving, the parking garage at Marion Square and the Visitors Center. Clearly these investments had paid dividends.

Apart from the parking garage, no new projects were announced. All the projects mentioned had received City approval. They encompassed hotels, condominiums, retail and commercial space. The Mayor referred to only the value of two of the projects but it is likely that the value of all of the projects will be measured in the hundreds of million of dollars. The economic impact on the City should be dramatic.

As for the parking lot, it will be on a site given to the City by the developer, Regent Charleston LLC. Its large Midtown Project is on the block bounded by King, Wolfe, Spring Streets, and the Norfolk Southern rail line The developer will construct the garage, to contain 350 spaces. The City will fund construction and ultimately buy the garage at cost. We presume that a bond issue, the interest and principal being paid by the parking fees would finance the purchase.

The Mayor said that the garage would be public and the developer would have no special rights. He also added that with the continuation of development in the Midtown area around King and Meeting Streets, at least another two parking garages would be needed.

Short term accommodation rentals approved for Commercial districts
Council ignored the decision by the Planning Commission and voted to allow short-term housing rentals in the Commercial zoned districts of Charleston. This issue has been around for a while though not quite in its present guise. Presently short term accommodation rentals (for less than 29 days) are limited to Bed and Breakfasts in the historic areas and hotels, guest houses etc in the Accommodation Overlay The new ordinance will be City wide but will primarily target buildings in Cannonborogh/Elliottborough which lend themselves to rentals. Many of the buildings are run down and the new ordinance could provide a stimulus for renovation.

Proponents of the amended ordinance cite the need for short-term accommodation in this area because of proximity to hospitals and the College of Charleston. Parents of college students, and friend and relatives of patients at the hospitals often need short-term accommodation, they say.

The amended ordinance comes with restraints. No more than 9 housing units will be allowed in a single structure, all units must have full facilities with no sharing, and dedicated parking spaces provided.

No Council member voted against the amendment though Council member White abstained. He was not opposed but wanted more time to study the ramifications. He, and some other members wondered whether there could be an unintended adverse impact in other parts of the City say in West Ashley, along Highway 17 or Ansonborough on the Peninsula. The Mayor said that if there were a potential adverse impact, the City could amend the ordinance to cover only the Cannonborough/Elliottborough area.

Business license required small landlords?
Council voted to renew the business license ordinance but also agreed to defer a decision as to widening its scope. Council member Seekings noted that he had received many calls of protest and some members of the public also voiced concern. The offending widening was to make business licenses mandatory for all owners who rent three or more apartments. Presently a business license is needed only if an owner rents 5 or more apartments.

We donít know the reason why such a change is required. It looks very much as revenue raising, though we doubt much will be raised. Those that rent 3 or 4 apartments are likely to be shop owners along King Street making use of the area above the first floor, or homeowners with carriage houses or large houses. They already bear a 6% assessment rate and get no break for school taxes. A business license fee will make for an even heavier burden.

Unexplained increase in Workers Compensation cost
The 2012 Stormwater Utility Fund Budget came before the Ways and Means Committee and there was no discussion or questions. In the Citizens Participation I pointed out that the cost of Workers Compensation was $57,194 in 2010. This year it was projected at $89,125 and next year projected at nearly $116,000. If there were a substantial increase in construction, increases of this magnitude would be understandable. But revenue has been relatively steady for the three year at around $6 million. Is it becoming increasingly unsafe to work for the City? I reported some months ago that I followed a storm water vactor truck which took a two and a half hour tour around the city without even stopping to even look at cleaning any storm drains. Who is looking out for the taxpayers and the City?
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