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County Council, December 6

A massive development project for North Charleston
I-526 still on hold, Redistricting Plan gets qualified approval
Warwick Jones

When the national economy gets back on its feet, Charleston will stand seven feet tall, a business colleague said recently. He was reflecting on the surging investment in the community by business groups. Of course, Charleston presently is not exactly an economic midget particularly after the investment of Boeing and some of its suppliers. But the appeal of Charleston that drew this investment remains strong. And it was evident at last night’s Council meeting.

On the agenda was a request by the City of North Charleston, seeking the nod of the County to proceed with a bond issue to be financed from the creation of Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) The bond issue would amount to $120 million but could be increased. The term would be up to 15 years. The TIF District is to be called the Ingleside Community and encompass 2,090 acres on the western side of I-26, south of University Boulevard. The land is presently zoned agricultural but that clearly is going to change.

Weber USA Inc, a subsidiary of the large German owned automotive group, has held most of the land for 14 years and is planning a massive development. A spokesman dropped some figures last night that immediately got our attention – the development would entail some 6 million sq. ft. of commercial space, 3 million sq. ft. of retail space and 3.5 million sq. ft. of industrial space. We may have confused some of the numbers but it is their magnitude that is most relevant. The investment would not be immediate but spread over a 25-year period. No estimate was made of the cost but our guess would be over $1 billion.

Few details were given of the likely investment but clearly the City of North Charleston is viewing the plan seriously. It will be committing to infrastructure creation costing some $92 million to aid the development.

Council member Schweers was a little puzzled as to why a TIF was being created. The land was not blighted or in an economically distressed area. Staff told him that the State allows the creation of a TIF district in areas zoned agricultural.

Council unanimously agreed to support North Charleston’s plan.

Defining options and repercussions, to seek resolution of I-526 issue
The folk that turned up to the meeting expecting some resolution of the I-526 extension issue were disappointed. It is also clear that Council would like resolution too though it still remains unclear as to what that might be.

The issue was on the agenda seemingly at the prompting of Council member Qualey. We need to let people know as to what is going on, to define options and the likely repercussions, he said.

There was a lot of discussion though probably all that was said had been said before. Council member Schweers was the most cynical. He noted that Council had voted for the “no build” option. He opined that the majority of citizens do not want the extension built. Columbia had given the County no “wriggle room” over the project. He was uncertain as to the liability of the County for the $12 million already spent. Maybe the liability will need to be settled in court.

Council member Johnson asked how you could define the options when Columbia was insistent on building the extension. Council member Qualey lamented that perhaps the only option was to vote the project up or down. The County needed to show that it had done its duty, and to move on.

Ultimately, Council voted to ask staff to study the issue, talk to the State Infrastructure Bank, and to define the options and repercussions of each.

We wonder whether there will be any change? The SIB and the SC Department of Transportation insist that the County proceed with the extension, defined now as Alternative G. The cost is an estimated $490 million of which $420 million will be provided by the SIB. The balance would need to be funded by the County.

If the County chooses not to build, it has the issue of the $12 million it has already spent out of state funds. These will need to be repaid, the state says. To date, Columbia has shown no inclination to bend over the financing. It claims that the SIB funding was for the I-526 project. If the funds are not used for this project, they will be diverted to other projects in the state pipeline. The funds cannot be simply diverted to projects in the County, of the County’s choosing.

Redistricting plans move to finality

We doubt that any redistricting plan will make all citizens happy. And there were some who voiced complaints last night. One complaint was that Council had made little effort to engage the public and another, that deliberations had been made out of the public eye. We’d agree on both these points. But we’d also say that defining districts and meeting all of the criteria set by the Federal Government are not easy tasks. In the circumstances, the County has done well but there will be critics certainly.

The County defined two redistricting maps – Options 1B and 2B. Both can be viewed on the County’s web site. Press here and refer to table on right hand side. Last night the Council agreed to adopt Option 1B though recognizing that the map could be amended in the light of further discussions.

Viewing the table that accompanies Option 1B (see right hand bottom corner), the boundaries have been redrawn so each district has a population count that is roughly equal. The average is 38,912 and the variance amongst districts is about 1% though District 9 (Council member Qualey ) is 2% above the average. Two majority /minority districts have been maintained – District 4 with a 56.05% black population and District 5 with 58.6%. Council members Darby and Pryor represent these districts respectively. District 8 has a 45.03% black population and is held by Council member Johnson.

The maintenance of majority/minority districts in large measure was the cause of some convoluted boundaries. As one speaker noted during the public hearing, there were four different Council members representing parts of the Peninsula. The division seems to have been based on color and affluence.

The 1B plan is to be sent to Columbia for review and if adopted by Council at the next and final reading, sent to the Department of Justice for final approval.

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