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City Council, January 29

Council cautious over land deal with College of Building Arts
Late Night Overlay Zones approved
Marc Knapp

Despite the unseasonable cold weather, attendance at last night’s Council meeting was relatively high. Many of the attendees had come to speak at the Public Hearing relating to an overlay zone restricting opening hours for bars and restaurants in the Elliottborough and Cannonborough areas. There were also some students from the College of Building Arts (CBA) interested in the outcome of the College’s bid to acquire a new home. No offense to the Mayor, but there were probably only a few who came because of the State of the City Address. We suspect that although many citizens were interested in the Mayor’s words, most would have preferred the comfort of attending their TV screens rather than face icy roads and drizzle.

Firstly, the Mayor’s address. Last night’s State of the City address was similar to that of last year and the years before. It was essentially an account of the City’s achievements over the year. And if there were differences from the previous years, it was the list and magnitude of accomplishments. The Mayor noted the considerable construction underway or planned, and the transformation of the upper King and Meeting Street areas. He spoke of the Gaillard project and plan for the African-American Museum. Obviously relishing the dismissal by the State Supreme Court of the suit against Carnival, he looked forward to a new Cruise ship terminal building and the potential development of part of the Union Pier property. The speech has been well covered by the media and we’ll say no more.

It is often taxing covering City Council meetings. Sometimes deliberations go on forever and you wonder why. Last night was a good example. The issue was a complex deal whereby the City planned to give the CBA the 1.6 acre Trolley Barn site at 628 Meeting Street. In turn, the College would be allowed to sell off half the site and use the proceeds to build a new school. And there was much more.

Council member Alexander, Chair of the Real Estate Committee noted at the beginning of the Ways and Means session, that his Committee had spent 2 hours discussing the issue. Many question remained unanswered and he suggested that the Committee continue its deliberations before Council considered the issue. Well that is essentially what Council did but only after more than an hour of discussion that resolved nothing.

We concede that there were many unusual features to the issue. And understandably, Council members were curious. It didn’t help that Council had only a few days notice of what was planned. And although some issues remained, a few Council members indicated support of the sale to the College and some were very hostile.

The facts. Along with other parcels of land, the City was given 628 Meeting Street by the SC Department of Transport (SCDOT) in 2005. The conveyance was for mitigation and enhancement following the acquisition by the SCDOT of land for the new Cooper River Bridge. The City hoped to develop this land and for the betterment of the community, but the recession that came about in ensuing years got in the way. Consequently the site remained undeveloped with a conspicuous dilapidated building. The City has been a long-time supporter of the CBA, and it seems the College needed a lot of support over the years to keep its doors open. And it clearly needs more support, not only financially but to secure accreditation.

We don’t know whether the City or the CBA initiated the proposal last night before Council. But the City proposes to sell the Meeting Street site for $10. As well, the CBA can sell about half of the site to Parallel Capital LLC for $1.75 million. Of this amount, at least $1.5 million is to be used for renovation repairs etc. of the Trolley Barn. The $250,000 balance can be used to meet relocation expenses, essentially moving the school from the old jail site on the Peninsula. That is the easy part. The CBA has liabilities amounting to over $2 million. It also owes money to the IRS and apparently there is a tax lien on the old jail property. It also plans to sell the old jail site but there are complications. The arrangement with the City also entails restrictions on borrowings by the CBA and other conditions. Conditions are also imposed on development of the part sold to Parallel.

Council member Mitchell was one of the first to speak to the issue and stated that nobody in his district, where the Trolley Barn is located, was opposed to the sale. Council members Lewis, who most often sides with Council member Mitchell, stated clearly that he was opposed to the deal. The conveyance of the property to the City was for mitigation of the impact on the community by the acquisition by the SCDOT of property for the Ravenel Bridge. What the City was now proposing was not mitigation! He used a lot more words, and they were strong.

Council member Waring was also hostile to the arrangement and thought the City would be better served if it kept the land and perhaps made a loan to the CBA to build its new campus. He also noted that the property was valuable and could become even more so.

Mayor Riley, almost certainly the major City voice behind the CBA, stated that the proposed arrangement was in the community interest and in compliance with the agreement with SCDOT. A new school would enhance the site and the area, and give educational opportunities to members of the community. Lt. General Colby Broadwater, President of the College also spoke last night and noted the importance of accreditation and the importance of acquiring the site in facilitating accreditation.

The Council gave first reading approval of the arrangement but with the understanding that it would be considered further by the Real Estate Committee at a special hearing to which all Council members were invited. Any proposed changes will be dealt with at the second reading.

There was no discussion when Council approved the sale of the Josiah C. Tennent Building to the Anastopoulo Law firm for $1.2 million. The City was seeking $1.4 million but yielded to the lower figure. We suspect the law firm is getting a good deal. The building has a long history and was a hospital during the Civil War. Its recent history is also interesting. The non-profit Elpis was virtually given the building by the City some 15 or so years ago. The non-profit went through some $4-$5 million in grants including over $1 million of HUD funds, and borrowings. Much of these funds went on renovation of the building and from what we can tell, little on the social services that Elpis was supposed to provide. The City bought back the building a few years ago. We wonder whether HUD has some claim on the City for the funds given to Elpis now the building has been sold to a for-profit entity.

To nobody’s surprise, Council approved the Late Night Overlay Zones to apply mainly in parts of Cannonborough and Elliottborough where there are numerous dwellings interspersed amongst commercial properties. The overlays will restrict the hours of operation in General Business and Light Industrial zoned properties, but specifically bars and restaurants, and closing times will be no later than 11 p.m. Presently State law allows operations to extend to 2 a.m.

All the speakers at the public hearing were in favor of the overlay and Council unanimously approved it

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