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City Council, February 11

Some Council members wary of closing traffic lane on Legare Bridge
Trolley Barn sale and Cainhoy rezoning approved
Marc Knapp

Despite the nasty weather, a lot of citizens attended last night’s Council meeting to air their views on two agenda items - the sale of the Trolley Barn to the College of Building Arts (CBA), and the rezoning related to the Cainhoy Plantation development. Council approved the sale and the rezoning, the latter only after considerable discussion. There was also some discussion over the Trolley Barn sale, surprising considering the hours already spent discussing the issue in the Real Estate Committee meetings and the previous Council meeting.

The Cainhoy and Trolley Barn issues have been well covered in the media and we’ll add our comments later. So we’ll start our note with an item on the Way and Means agenda. It related to the T. Allen Legare Bridge, or more specifically, the bridge over the Ashley River that puts traffic onto the Peninsula at Calhoun Street. Before Council was a Memorandum of Agreement between the City, the County and the SC Department of Transportation (SCDOT). It was not a financially binding agreement, and indeed the document laid all the responsibility for financing on the shoulders of the County. Notwithstanding, some Council members had concerns about what it proposed – the conversion of an inward bound traffic lane to a bike and pedestrian lane.

Council member Moody was the first to express concern. He noted community opposition and thought the issue should be addressed by the Traffic and Transportation Committee (TTC). Reasonably, he asked whether the City should be sure it really wanted this change before the County began any work or planning.

Council members Waring and Alexander also raised flags of caution. The latter Council member noted that although SCDOT had indicated that the remaining three lanes could adequately handle the current traffic volume, this may not be the case within a few years. The conversion of the bike and pedestrian lane back to vehicular traffic may be necessary. To take something away from the public once it has been given will be difficult.

Council member Seekings spoke a number of times in favor of the signing, noting that really there was no financial obligation on the City and it would be better to have a discussion after the County had prepared a plan. The Mayor made similar comments.

Council member Gregorie noted, with some exasperation, that the issue had not gone before the Traffic and Transportation Committee (TTC). What were Committees for?

Council ultimately agreed to send it to the TTC and to take up the issue in the light of its recommendation.

The Mayor may not agree that he bought the outcome of the Trolley Barn issue. But in the eyes of some, and those of Council member Lewis, it sure seemed that way.

The issue is complex. It involves the sale of the Trolley Barn property to the CBA for $10, the sale of half of the property to a developer for $1.75 million, the gift of $1.5 million from the developer to the CBA to be used on rehabilitation of the actual barn. The developer, Parallel Capital is also to acquire the Old Jail presently occupied by the CBA. Parallel plans on constructing commercial and dwelling space on the parcel it will acquire. There was more, and with sufficient loose ends that the Real Estate Committee spent about 5 hours in two meetings and Council, an hour at its previous meeting, discussing the issue. We did not attend the Real Estate Committee meetings but at last month’s Council meeting, there was plenty of dissention.

What was new last night was the Mayor’s promise to use the $4.7 million accumulated from the sale of City properties to finance Affordable Housing. He noted that more funds could become available at the expiration in 2017 of a Tax Increment Financing.

Council member Lewis was vociferous in his condemnation of the Trolley Barn sale, claiming that the property had been given to the City by the SCDOT as part mitigation for the properties lost to enable the Ravenel Bridge construction. Council member Lewis thought that the mitigation should go to the community which bore the brunt of the property loss. He looked to the provision of more affordable housing and he clearly had friends on Council who supported him, at least at the previous Council meeting. The Mayor had a wider interpretation of community, perhaps encompassing the whole of the Peninsula.

Whether it was the promise of funds for affordable housing, or the eloquence or logic of the Mayor, but in the final vote, Council supported the sale and concomitant conditions, the latter somewhat tightened over those in the first proposed agreement. But Council member Lewis was steadfast in his opposition for all the same reasons. But he added a comment on the acumen of the Mayor, which on face value would appear flattering, but wasn’t meant to be.

The final and memorable comment was made by Council member Alexander - this was the school's third bite at the apple and this time it needed to succeed.

The outcome of the public hearings and subsequent vote on the Cainhoy development were probably foregone. The Planning Commission had approved all that had been proposed and approval made sense to us. However, that is not to say that some comments by the public were wasted.

In our mind some specific comments by the owners’ representatives, Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Director Keane, and Council member Waring made sense. They noted that the properties were previously zoned CY and the owners had the right to subdivide to 2.1 dwelling units per acre. The owners were giving up this right for a less dense development. The owners said this was not a move for mitigation; it was an attempt to engage the community and have its support. As an ex member of the Planning Commission, Council member Waring wailed at the prospect of a development undertaken under the CY Zoning category. The representatives of the owners also noted that they had listened to the requests of citizens and had implemented many.

It struck us that many citizens who spoke seemed to assume that the properties were public lands and that the owners had some obligation to yield to their requests. Of course they are not, and did not respectively. At least theoretically, the owners could have developed under the original zoning and ignored the request of citizens. But this would be a gauntlet that would quickly be taken up by both the City and the residents of Cainhoy and fought in a way (and we are not sure how) that would at least be impeding if not halting. The owners of the Cainhoy Plantation may well have acted with the interest of the community on mind when requesting zoning changes, but we also think in their own self-interest, recognition of the concerns of the community was the only way to go forward.

As Council member Waring noted, the citizens who rose did not oppose the re zonings. Some wanted a deferral to allow for better planning, some wanted greater assurance over the preservation of structures, sacred sites. Some were concerned about the provision of infrastructure, buffers and affordable housing.

We thought the Preservation Society (PC) representative had a good point. Why was the rezoning process so rushed? The Planning Commission approved the rezoning only last week and now it was before City Council. Such a short time between these meetings was unusual. Weren’t there mandatory requirements in relation to time and payments that had to be met? The PC also had a number of concerns – lack of clarity in the plans, lack of density limits, no traffic studies, and limited opportunity for the public to comment on future plans.

There were another two items that got our attention. Firstly, the population of Cainhoy/Daniel Island was projected to rise to 40,000 at build out in 50 years. This compares with 11,500 presently. The projected population increase indicated the scale of the development. It compares with the whole of James Island where the population is presently 30,000.

Secondly, according to the Mayor, 155 acres would be set aside for affordable housing though some speakers suggested it would be 10% of the available land area. Either figure seems very large. Of course, the number of Affordable Housing units will depend on the density of development and it is possible that many units will be detached dwellings.

The provision of substantial affordable housing in the development is strange. At the request of Cainhoy residents, no land is to be zoned Light or Heavy industrial. This means limited local employment opportunities. Will CARTA be able to serve this far flung community? Or will residents, like those in most other way out developments, be car dependent? Maybe the industries that already exist in the general area – such as the Port and Nucor – will provide the opportunities.

There were many questions asked and concerns raised by Council members about the future development and the participation of Council. Staff tried to answer and comfort Council members. Director Keane emphasized that the new Planned Unit Development (PUD) zonings were far more restrictive in every way than the original zoning. The developer will be subject to the same regulations that apply to all PUDs. Where necessary, the developer will need to get Planning Commission approval for further development such as subdivisions. The public and Council members have the right to attend and speak at Planning Commission hearings, he said.

Council was unanimous in its approval.

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