The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch


Individual Articles

City Council, December 16

City to take a look at building standards in Historic District
Magnolia project moves ahead – at last
Marck Knapp

It was the first item of the Ways and Means Agenda. The City was to retain Miami architect Duany Plater–Zybek & Co for a fee of $79,000. Historic Charleston Foundation was to reimburse the City for $40,000 of this amount. We had no idea what all this was for but the Mayor moved to enlighten us.

He told Council that there had been considerable criticism of many of the buildings that had been constructed in Charleston in the last 15 years. He spoke of the historic nature of the city, the need for preservation and for high standards for new construction. In consequence, a study was to be made of these standards and of the Board of Architectural Review. Mr. Andres Duany, who has a high reputation and is well known in the City, is to be the consultant.

Well, well, it makes you think doesn’t it? Our first thoughts go back 8 years or so when many of us were lamenting the large number of massive and intrusive structures planned for the City. Mr. Jonathon Poston, Director of the Graduate Center in Historic Preservation at Clemson University spoke of the degradation of the historic sections of the City. The Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society identified some 12 or so projects that they felt threatened the historic ambience of the city. Succumbing to this pressure, the City in 2007 agreed to join with HCF to create a “task force” to watch over developments on the Peninsula.

Did the “task force” make a difference? Hard to say! The recession that fell upon us, upset the plans of most developers but not all. Some developments were scaled back, some deferred, some modified. But some went ahead and in all their grossness.

So how much difference can an upgraded set of regulations relating to new construction in the historic districts make? We suspect not a lot. Most of those lots along King and Meeting Streets that were undeveloped are now developed, have projects underway, or will have projects underway shortly. The new regulations will likely make little difference.

So Historic Charleston Foundation, Preservation Society, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association and the many other concerned citizens of 7-8 years ago who volubly expressed your concerns, the City is acknowledging in a way, that you were right. But I feel that instead of satisfaction, you will feel exasperation and frustration.

As an aside, we note that Henry Fishburne was at last night’s meeting. Going through our archives, we note that when he was a Council member in 2007 he expressed his frustration with the BAR and some of its decisions. Too much time was spent on minor issues and not enough on major issues, he said. The constitution of the BAR needed to be reexamined. We wonder what he thought about the latest development.

There were few other items on last night’s agenda that attracted much interest. There was a public hearing on the creation of a 181 Acre Planned Unit Development (PUD). It is on the old Magnolia site on the Neck that was slated for development some years ago. The owners have changed and are now ultimately CC&T Real Estate Services and Mead Westvaco.

According to the documents in the public package, 3500 residential units are planned along with 850,000 sq. ft. of office space and 420,000 sq. ft. of retail.

Two speakers rose in the Public hearing to complain that insufficient information had been given to nearby residents. This was quickly rebuffed by 3 Council members who noted that the developers had gone to great lengths to include nearby communities in the planning process. The PUD was unanimously approved.

The budget for 2015 was also approved. I asked in Citizen’s Participation that the 1.5 mil increase be deferred for a month so that the projected revenue increase could be verified. Unfortunately, the budget was presented last night as one item. In the previous Council meeting it was split into four distinct items. The vote last night was eight to four with Council members Alexander, White, Seekings and Waggoner voting against. Council member Wilson was absent.

I also rose to complain about not being able to get the gross assessed values of real property for the City of Charleston in each of the three assessed value ratio's - 4%, 6% and 10% - from the County. These values are essential in projecting property tax revenue. I was emailed by a County employee that it no longer had these three numbers and that I would have to pay $55.00 per hour for the County's IT people to research the information. I was later berated by the City’s CFO for not asking him for the information. This from the department I wanted to check.

I also asked about a monthly financial report for the City. I have asked numerous times for this information. And again I was chastised by CFO Bedard and Council member Moody. CFO Bedard stated that a financial report is provided each month. Council member Moody said that he has seen reports but couldn’t remember if they were quarterly or monthly. Too bad the public can't get them. I obviously must have hit a nerve for both CFO Bedard and Council member Moody both berated me after Citizen's Participation.

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