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County Council, April 22

No change in proposals for Maybank Highway and Folly/Camp Road
Council member Johnson seeks amendments to Folly Road overlay
Warwick Jones

If attendees thought something was going to change in relation to the Maybank Highway development, they could have stayed home last night. Nothing changed, at least not to the nature of the project. But Council took a very long time deliberating and discussions took a surprising but temporary turn.

We’ll make no attempt to capture all of the discussion but say that Council member Johnson asked a lot of questions and some seemed the same each time. In summary Council voted to pursue the staff’s recommendation and which was discussed at last Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting. The County would proceed with the “pitchfork” road arrangement and resurface Maybank Highway from Main to River Road and add a sidewalk and bikeway. The estimated $15 million funding of these things would come from the half-cent sales tax.

The original plan to widen Maybank Highway and accommodate the high and growing volume of traffic had been abandoned at the time the County agreed to the "pitchfork" plan. The original plan was estimated to cost $30 million of which the County funded $15 million and the Federal Highway Administration the other $15 million. Because of the proposed change and reduced scope, the modified project did not qualify for federal funding. It seemed that a major change in the project would have meant the need for a new application but further, the nature of the new but smaller project disqualified it from receiving federal funds anyhow.

So as was observed by Council members, there was a “free” $15 million of federal funding floating around. Council member Qualey thought that $6.5 million could be applied to funding work at the Folly/Camp Road intersection. Staff, and it seemed most Council members, agreed. The problem is that the $15 million is not the County’s to apply. The County must seek approval from the Charleston Area Transport Study Committee (CHATS) to use any part of the funds. And that is what Council agreed to last night. However, the concurrence of CHATS is far from a certainty.

As the meeting was taking so much time, Council member Rawl asked that the Maybank Highway issue be deferred when it first came up. However it was the mood of Council to persevere though we suspect reluctantly. But Council became alive when it heard his proposal – to meet the $6.5 million shortfall in funding for the Folly/Camp Road intersection by using part of the $15 million of sales tax monies presently marked for the "pitchfork" development at Maybank Highway. If the City wants the "pitchfork" arrangement, let the City fund it, he said! It was largely because of the City that the original and larger Maybank Highway project was abandoned.

Some Council members thought they had misheard and asked for clarification. And the Council member left no doubt as to what he proposed. There was a lot of discussion but when it came to a vote, only he, Council member Darby and Chairman Pryor supported the motion. As we noted earlier, Council finally voted for the staff recommendation.

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The other items that took so much time were amendments proposed by Council member Johnson to the proposed Folly Road overlay. The latter is an attempt by the County to bring some uniformity or agreement to zoning along the road. The road travels through 4 jurisdictions – the County, the City of Charleston, and the Towns of James Island and Folly Beach. Its preparation took many meetings of staff from each of the jurisdictions and many public hearings. So Council members were surprised to see the amendments proposed by Council member Johnson, particularly as they would lead to a slightly more intense commercial zoning along the road than that proposed. The present zoning is Neighborhood Preservation but she proposed the new zoning be Neighborhood Commercial. She also proposed that 10 room hotels/motels be allowed in this zoning district and for specific restrictions on noise. The Council member said that the residents of the area supported her proposals and a number of citizens spoke in the Public Comments period in support.

We were surprised that Council spent so much time addressing her proposals. They were read out at the meeting and as far as we know, Council members had no idea of their nature before the meeting. We’d ask shouldn’t discussion be deferred until the proposals are studied? Indeed, considering their length and substance, shouldn’t the Planning Commission study them? Council member Summey suggested the latter but he made no follow up motion.

Ultimately, County moved to accept the presently proposed overlay for Folly Road and without amendments. But it agreed that a Public Meeting be held in the affected area to hear the views of residents. The amendments proposed by Council member Johnson will be discussed at a future Council meeting and in the light of the public meeting.

That it should be so easy? We suspect that many Council members have strong views on Council member Johnson’s proposals and they will be expressed after further study. Ten room hotels along Folly Road? What sort of precedent is this? And do you give a small group of citizens what they want if its impact on the larger community is adverse?

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