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City Council, May 26

Issues over plans for Hampton Park
A grand plan for Johns Island Park
Marc Knapp

Issues over parks tended to dominate last night’s City Council meeting.

Before Council was a recommendation from the Real Estate Committee to approve an agreement between the City and the Charleston Parks Conservatory (CPC) for the nonprofit to implement programs and venues for City parks. And the first planned makeover is Hampton Park.

Some citizens rose in Citizens Participation to speak against the “commercialization” of the park and plans to set up food and drink retailing. They also noted that the surrounding neighborhoods had not been informed of the plans and they should have been.

Council member Gregorie was the first to speak to the issue. He is the Chair of the Recreation Committee. He said the Committee was in favor of the agreement but approval was conditional on consultation with the surrounding neighborhoods. There were also concerns about traffic. The Council member also took issue that the agreement with the City came firstly to the Real Estate Committee, and not the Recreation Committee. The City attorney disagreed and Council member Gregorie, one suspects out of pique, voted against acceptance of the Real Estate Committee’s recommendation.

We also note that there was no mention on yesterday’s agenda of a Recreation Committee report. We went to the City’s web site to look up the agenda of the Committee’s last meeting. The meeting date was May 21, but no agenda was listed.

Council member Waring stated that “commercialization” was not an appropriate word to describe that planned for the park. The City was attempting to improve the facilities of the park for all citizens. Given the following wording in the information package of the objective, it was hard to tell.

to provide venues for refreshments , dining, community events , and other amenities for the enjoyment of citizens and visitors, and to generate revenues that will allow CPC to grow its volunteer recruiting efforts, programming, training, park renovation and maintenance activities in City parks

Council member Lewis also spoke and endorsed the comments of Council member Gregorie. He also spoke strongly against the provision of alcoholic beverages.

Council approved the Recreation Committee’s recommendations, which also included a ban on hammocks in City parks.
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There was nothing on the agenda about the Johns Island Park. But last night’s Council meeting was held at the local High School and a number of Johns Island residents attended the meeting, and a few spoke of the park. One resident was highly critical of the state of the park and the lack of amenities. But one speaker got our attention when she spoke of plans for the park and the large amount of funding to be provided. We and others thought she said that Wells Fargo would provide $6 million to fund the construction of facilities which would include a large indoor swimming pool. The speaker was a representative of the nonprofit Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care. She told us after the meeting that the cost of the facility was estimated at $6 million and that Wells Fargo would provide up to $4 million, but it would be a loan. The City was supportive of the plan but another $2 million needed to be raised.

The prospect of as large indoor swimming pool will excite a lot of people, particularly as many citizens are clamoring for one. And Council member Wilson is probably in the forefront of the proponents. But the largesse of Wells Fargo surprises us. We wonder if there are some caveats that have not been disclosed.
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There was no issue of the first item on the Ways and Means agenda. It related to development of a skate board park on Oceanic Street, next to I-26, by the County Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC). The City will contribute $528,000 of which an undisclosed amount will come from the Charleston Neck TIF. The plan has been under consideration for some time and but according to the Post and Courier, the PRC was opting out because of the heavy cost, now $4 million opposed to $3 million. The project will go ahead with funding from the City and $400,000 from the Speedwell Foundation, making up the difference.
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As we noted, last night’s meeting was on Johns Island. And as is common apparently on most evenings, there is considerable traffic congestion on Maybank Highway. After crossing the bridge connecting James Island to Johns Island, the highway shrinks to one lane. What happened to the “pitchfork” design to alleviate congestion? The plan was approved years ago and there is no visible indication that it is being implemented. Johns Islanders must be incredibly patient, or they have just given up.

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