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City Council, July 21

Mother Emmanuel victims honored
Late Night Activity Review Committee makes its report
Marc Knapp

It was the first meeting of Council since the Mother Emmanuel shootings. Council member Moody gave the invocation prior to the Ways and Means meeting, and Council member Riegel, that for the City Council. Both invocations drew heavily on the killings. The City Council meeting opened with a resolution to honor the members of the church who were slain. It also was to establish the “Mother Emanuel AME Church Days in the City of Charleston” beginning June 17, 2016. On each of these days next year, a live oak tree will be planted at nine locations within the City in remembrance. The City Council will appoint a committee to determine the location of the plantings

Predictably, the resolution was passed unanimously, but not without comment. Council member Gregorie, who is a member of the church congregation, said he would recommend two amendments at a later date and after the existing resolution was approved. He said that mention should be made of the three members of the church who were at the prayer meeting but were not killed. He also said that the name of the street (Calhoun) on which the Church stood, should be changed to honor the murdered victims.

There was no discussion of the Council member’s proposals.

Council member Gregorie also applauded the way Mayor Riley and Chief Mullen dealt with the crisis. His comment precipitated a standing ovation for Mayor Riley.

Now into summer and only one Council meeting a month, there was a lot on last night’s agenda. Two items took up most of the time – the presentation by the Late Night Activity Review Committee (LNARC), and a public hearing of Charleston Parks Conservancy’s plans for Hampton Park.

The LNARC was formed to find a solution to the problems arising for the growing number of bars and restaurants, essentially on upper King Street, and their impingement on residential areas. The Committee has been deliberating for more than 6 months now. Its report was given to Council members last night though the report was not in the public package. Mr. Steve Palmer, Co- Chair of the Committee gave Council a summary of its recommendations. Our summary is as follows:

  • Create a Commission with members appointed by the Mayor and Council. The purpose of the Commission will be to collaborate in providing information and direction for growth, business operations and livability impact. Amongst other things, the City should institute more aggressive street cleaning, coordinate garbage pick-up on Upper King Street at 3.30 am daily , pressure wash sidewalks on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Approve the zoning ordinance (placed before Council last night) requiring applicants for new licenses planning to operate properties within 500 feet of a residential district, to go before the BZA. Concomitant with this, the City will determine some limits to density of bars and restaurants within the area.
  • Test soft closings. Bars will still close at 2 am but occupants will be allowed another hour to exit the premises. This is designed to limit pressure on the streets and sidewalks at 2 am.
  • Coordinate with the new Tourism Management Plan in those areas where overlap exists in quality of life, parking impact and congestion . Also promote safety and security in parking garages

Overall we think the suggestions are good and expect Council to act in adopting most if not all of LNARC’s recommendations. Council members all seemed very supportive last night and considering the moratorium on approval of new licenses will end in September, Council needs to implement some of the recommendations soon. Mayor Riley also announced last night that the City would be integrating Tourism and Livability but we were unable to record all that he proposed.

Council gave first reading last month to the Ordinance relating to improvements to Hampton Park and a lease agreement with the Charleston Parks Conservancy. A public hearing and the second hearing were scheduled for last night. But reflecting comments made at the public hearing, the second reading was deferred until the next Council meeting, towards the end of August.

There were some 30 citizens speaking at the hearing. Overall, most were in favor of all, or some of the plan. Those that were not in favor were concerned about both the proposed café, the serving of alcohol, the events place, and the concomitant traffic. The events place would accommodate near 350 persons and have parking for 150 cars. This was about double the capacity of Founders Hall at Charlestown Landing. Some speakers noted that the Lansdowne property close to Hampton Park and which caters for events, generated unwelcome noise up to 11 pm. The events place at Hampton Park would also impinge on the residents.

Some speakers noted that Hampton Park was not always a passive park, as it is now and as some citizens want it to remain. A kiosk operated there many years ago. Others said that the Conservancy was a responsible body and that it would not allow the fears of residents to be realized.

If there were a single factor that caused Council to defer a decision it was because the Wagener Terrace Neighborhood Association was only able to hear the presentation by the Conservancy on the Monday night prior to yesterday’s meeting. Speakers said that there were questions that still awaited answers. Council thought that nothing would be lost by deferring for a month so these questions could be answered.

All Council members voted for deferral except Council member Seekings who clearly thought that that the ordinance should be passed.

We’d note that two Council members had some firm ideas about the Ordinance. Council member Lewis was adamantly opposed to the sale of alcoholic beverages in the park. He cited the incompatibility of alcohol and the numerous picnics by family and church groups. Council member Waring noted that the park was used by folk all over the City. It was not the preserve of just the surrounding neighborhoods. He thought the views of a wider range of citizens were needed. And Council member Williams opined, somewhat in line with Council member Waring that with Charleston growing strongly, it needed to adopt a broad approach to the park and cater for wider needs.

Reflecting what Council members said last night, we’d bet that the Ordinance will be passed at the next meeting with few changes. Three of the four surrounding neighborhood associations voted for the plan without modification while the collective view of the Wagener Terrace remains to be determined. Some members of Council may seek to ban alcohol but in our view, there would be no problem if sales and consumption were confined to the proposed café area. The issue of the events place and parking is likely to be an issue but we’d expect Council to approve the plan though perhaps with some downscaling.

Other items before Council last night were last night were:

  • A request from the Traffic and Transportation Committee to pass an ordinance prohibiting the “passing of items to or from the occupant of a motor vehicle on a road way in a lane of travel”. Council member Wilson spoke of the ordinance and noted that it was a safety issue, and it probably was. But for most of us, it was something else - to stop the panhandling at key locations on major roads entering and leaving the Peninsula which had grown into a major unseemly enterprise. The incidence of begging began nearly a year ago when the City lifted its ban following legal advice that its regulations infringed civil liberties. Legal advice clearly has allowed the ban to be reintroduced but in different clothing, that of Public Safety. Fines for both the donor and recipient of largesse will be up for fines of over $1000. No Council member had any issue with the new regulation.
  • The City was talking another look at its Transport Network Companies ordinance in the light of the introduction by the State of a similar ordinance and which will affect municipalities.
  • The hours of Valet operations serving the upper King Street area are to be changes. Presently, the services operate from 6 pm to 12.30 am. It seems some services chose to close down before 12.30 and some customers arriving back at the stands thereafter could not get or find their cars. The amendment makes it obligatory for the Valet stands to be staffed until 12.30 am. Council member Seekings was attributed with coining the ordinance as “‘No car left behind”. Lots of good natured groans!

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