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City Council, June 18

A stir over a proposed new zoning district
Major expansion of Digital Corridor planned
Marc Knapp

The meeting was held at the Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School and the Mayor asked that it not be long. He planned to attend the memorial service for the fallen Charleston Nine firefighters. The service began at 7 p.m. which left the better part of two hours to wind up the Council meeting. But the Mayor’s hope proved forlorn. Council members seemed indifferent, and the final issue, relating to a rezoning, dragged on for a long time, and in our view too long. And for the attendees who were sitting on the hard and narrow benches at the school, the meeting grew increasingly uncomfortable.

The issue related to the creation of a new zoning district and the subsequent rezoning of a large number of properties in Cannonborough/Elliottborough, Radcliffeborough and the east side of the Peninsula. As Tim Keane, Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability explained, the Council had approved the rezoning of all these properties at an earlier meeting to Limited Business (LB). The sole purpose of the rezoning was to stop businesses from remaining open after 11 pm. The area subject to the rezoning contained many residences, and the quality of life of the residents was being adversely impacted in the late hours of the evening by some of the patrons of bars and restaurants in the subject area. Prior to the ordinance, bars and restaurants could remain open until 2 a.m.

The LB zoning would do the job, but also more. It had a more restricted dwelling density and this was an unintended consequence. Consequently, the City designed a new zoning classification, Neighborhood Business (NB) which essentially is the General Business (GB) category but with an 11 p.m. limit to the hours of operation.

The issue did not seem controversial but Council members Alexander and Waring were not happy. They didn’t ask but should have asked how staff and the Planning Commission missed the impact on dwelling density by the rezoning to LB. But the more restrictive density of the LB zoning was not the issue for them. It was the impact of the new ordinance on businesses. They steadfastly insisted that the rezoning to NB be deferred so businesses in the affected area could study the implications. They noted that the demands of residents seemed to get the attention of staff and Council far more than given to businesses. The businesses in the affected area were generally small. Many had been operating for years and were an integral part of the neighborhoods. Some owners had invested significant capital and an 11 p.m. closing could threaten the viability of their operations.There could also be a significant drop in some property values. Businesses needed to be heard.

Nobody took issue with the Council members over the opportunity for businesses to study the new zoning district. But the contention was whether to defer the issue or to give the proposed ordinances first reading and make changes at the second reading should changes be deemed necessary in the light of public meetings, another Planning Commission meeting, and discussions with business owners.

Mayor Riley clearly had strong views on the issue and stated the need to give the ordinances first readings. The proposed ordinances did not come into effect until the second and third readings but by giving the first readings, the existing ordinance could no longer be applied. He and others noted the hearings that had been held and the strong support for 11 p.m. closings of all the neighborhood associations representing residents in the area.

We lost count of the number of times the Mayor and Council members Waring and Alexander spoke. It also seemed that the same things were being said over and over again and that it was developing into a war of attrition. But ultimately the Mayor prevailed, the motion to defer was withdrawn and the proposed ordinances were given first reading with a unanimous vote – but with the conditions, never fully spelled out in the motion, that affected businesses would be given full opportunity to express their views.

Other zoning issues took up a disproportionate amount of time. Similar to that relating to the proposed rezoning on the Peninsula discussed above, the issue was to defer or give first reading and make any changes necessary at the second reading. And the catalyst for both issues was the fact that Council members representing the districts for the proposed re-zonings wanted to get the views of nearby residents.

Getting the view of nearby residents is likely to prove difficult for the proposed rezoning to Light Industrial for 1669 Meeting Street. There are very few residents in this largely industrial area. But a speaker at the public hearing said he had a petition opposed to the rezoning with some hundred signatures. We thought, as probably did everybody else, that folk at large were opposed to the tattoo parlor planned for the site if the re zoning occurred. The rezoning was given the first reading and Council member Mitchell will do more research on the issue, the identity of the petitioners, and how or if they will be affected.

Council member Wagner asked for a deferral of the rezoning of a 20 acre lot on River Road from Conservation to Rural Residential. Combining the parcel with other land owned by his family, the owner planned a 25 acre development of single family dwellings. Considering the likely scale of the development, Council member Wagner thought he better check the views of nearby residents. And Council bowed to his request. But Council member Moody noted the time wasted in this and other rezoning requests where the Council member representing the district was given little notice. Shouldn’t staff inform Council members of significant re-zonings in their districts coming before Council?

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The City is taking another big step to further develop its Digital Corridor. Council last night approved the purchase of the property at 999 Morrison Drive for $1.77 million. On completion of the purchase, the City will seek a partner to develop the site. It is expected that the Phase 1 building of the development will entail 40,000 square feet over 4 floors, and the Phase 2 building, about 60,000 square feet.

The purchase and development will supplement the Flagship 1 (F1) and Flagship 2 (F2) developments – at 475-A East Bay and 78 Alexander Street respectively. F1 comprises 14 fully furnished offices and wired for instant use, and F2, 16 offices and a wider range of facilities. The new proposed building will near double the number of offices available to start up “tech” companies.

Representatives of People Matter and Boomtown spoke at the Council meeting. Both companies are highly successful and got their start in the City’s Digital Corridor and the speakers spoke glowingly of the help given to them and to others. The Mayor also spoke of the success of the Digital Corridor and the expected high growth of “Silicon Harbor” i.e. Charleston.

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