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City Council. August 18

Hampton Park Plan adopted
Amendments made to original plan
Marc Knapp

Despite the heavy rain and local flooding, some 20 or so citizens found their way to Bishop Gadsden last night to speak at the Council meeting and plans for Hampton Park. They could have saved themselves the effort. Since the public hearing a month ago, the City made much effort to collect more community views. In consequence, it amended its original plans, and the amended ordinance passed last night with only Council member Gregorie dissenting. The Parks Conservancy will now lease land and improvements from the City that will serve, after redevelopment, a café and a community center. The surplus from operations will be used to help fund the Conservancy’s efforts to maintain city parks.

All bar one, citizens who spoke of the Hampton Park plan were opposed. Similar to the views expressed by opponents at the public hearing last month, speakers expressed concern about the sale of alcohol at the café, noise at both the café and the community center, the likely heavy traffic flows, and problems of parking. Some simply wanted the park to remain passive.

It was not clear to us whether the opponents speaking last night had read the amended ordinance or were speaking against the original ordinance. The amended ordinance has been on the City’s web site for some days and the changes made by the City certainly went a long way in addressing the concerns expressed by citizens.

For the proposed café, the hours of operation would be between noon and 9 pm. Only single serves of beer and wine would be provided. And the rules would be strictly enforced, enhanced by a further addition to the ordinance last night that seemed to be a last minute fine tuning, ensuring the role of the City police in enforcement. There would be no amplified music at the café and alcohol sales could be no more than 35% of gross revenue (This provision has more to do with conformity to business licenses than restricting alcohol sales). The Mayor stated that a family friendly atmosphere would be maintained.

The capacity of the proposed community center would be reduced from 350 to 250 persons, and the accompanying parking spaces from 150 to 125. Amplified music would not be allowed outside the structure and could not exceed 60 DB when measured at points defined in the ordinance. The facility was to close at 10.30 pm and the bar at 10 pm.

According to a consultant retained by the City, there was little likelihood of traffic problems arising from the use of the community center and the café.

There was some discussion on Council as to encouraging the use of the community center by the City’s citizens. The City proposed that locals get a 33.3% discount to normal rates. Council member Wilson thought the discount should be more and she was supported by Council member Moody. Council member Gregorie wondered whether such discounting would upset the economic viability of the center.

The ordinance banning panhandling on City streets passed it final reading last night and now becomes law. As pointed out, the law does not prohibit begging, but for safety reasons does not allow it on city streets. Gratuities passed between entities on a sidewalk are permissible. The ordinance bars hand-outs from vehicles on a road.

One speaker, claiming to be a veteran marine, supported the ordinance and spoke unflatteringly of those that begged. He maintained that many were capable of working. He also said, literally some had reacted violently to his criticism. His views were opposed by two others who spoke of the need for these folk to supplement their income. One speaker also suggested by taking away this means of income, the incidence of crime would rise in the community.

We will not suggest that the lot of homeless and disable veterans is easy. But there are federal and other programs out there that provide help for these folk. And thanks to Crisis Ministries and other charitable institutions, nobody in Charleston need to go hungry. We strongly support the City’s ordinance.

And speaking of charities and charitable acts, we were impressed by the efforts of the City, and
particularly its police force. The City was the recipient of a 2015 City Livability Award given by the US Conference of Mayors. The Mayor chose last night to honor Chief Mullen and Amy Barch of the Neighborhood and Business Services in obtaining this award and the service they gave to the citizens. The service was not in the way we expected. Council was shown a video that contributed to the Livability Award and highlighted the effort of the City to help the youth, and those being released from jail. The latter were counselled about resuming life in the community and assisted in finding employment. Both efforts entailed volunteer work of police, and others from the City and the community. The enthusiasm of Chief Mullen and Ms. Birch were real. And the video indicated, the recipients of the City’s efforts were truly appreciative.

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