The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, January 26

Mayor signals a harsher policy on Citizenís comments
Gathering Place moratorium extended
Marc Knapp

It was Mayor Tecklenbergís second Council meeting. He conducted it well. He was assured and polished. He summed up some issues before the Council nicely. And he laid out very firmly the conduct that he expected at future Council meetings. Talking more to citizens than Council members, speakers needed to confine themselves to City business and issues. Prejudice of any description would not be tolerated. He recognized it was a fine line between free and offensive speech but notwithstanding, he expected speakers to show restraint.

We expect the Mayorís attitude to offensive speakers will be harsher than that of his predecessor. Although he must have been concerned many times about the comments of some citizens, Mayor Riley was tolerant and if there were a rebuke, it was generally mild. Mayor Tecklenberg may have been contemplating a harsher policy for some time but we suspect it was catalyzed by a speaker at his first Council meeting. The speaker suggested that Jews were responsible for his election and they controlled the City. The Mayor might have been shocked by the comment, but compared to others made by the same speaker over the last year or so, it was mild.

The Gathering Place (GP) zoning was discussed at length last night. The only decision was to extend the moratorium on new applications until March 11. The moratorium that existed expires today. Staff had planned to present an amended GP zoning ordinance last night. Presumably because of differences within the Committee studying the issue, and possibly because of complaints by citizens not being able to review the proposed ordinance before voting, it was delayed.

Nearly all of the Council members spoke to the issue and Council member Seekings suggested that maybe a totally new ordinance should be drafted. He quoted Council member Gregorie who said that 60 to 70% of the ordinance would be changed. (Council members Gregorie, Wilson and Moody are on the Committee as well as staff and citizens) If the changes were so great, the ordinance should be scrapped and drafting should begin anew, Council member Seekings suggested. He also said that a GP zoning should not be a one size fits all. There should be some acknowledgement of the context.

There was support for scrapping an attempt to amend the ordinance. But as Council member Gregorie noted there were strong Council members on the Committee and nothing would come before the Planning Commission or Council if they did not approve. Council member Wilson also spoke to the issue and she made it very clear her hostility to the present GP zoning and its shortcomings.

Whether the GP zoning is amended or scrapped will await review of the amended ordinance by the Planning Commission and Council Ė assuming of course that the Committee can agree to an amended ordinance.

A remaining concern is the application made by Core Capital Property and which was before the Design Review Board a day before the implementation of the moratorium. The proposed project entails some 300 dwelling units and the developer will have the right to proceed under the old zoning. Whether he does will depend on his consideration of the new zoning. But as pointed out, his project will add to the scale and density of the Maybank Highway GP. It will also exacerbate traffic problems and Council member Wilsonís fury.

The moratorium was primarily to halt development on Maybank Highway. However,perhaps an unintended consequence, it has stopped new development on the West Ashley Circle, another GP zoning.

There were a lot of Citizenís seeking changes to the Cityís Short Term Rentals policy. Council member Lewis asked at the last Council meeting that the policy be reviewed. He wasnít necessarily in favor of the City relaxing its restrictions but he felt that they ought to be reviewed, clarified and enforced. All of the speakers sought a relaxation, if not an abandonment, of the restrictions. The common theme was that the landlords were not rapacious but seeking some alleviation from the oppression of a burden of expenses. The latter included low wages, student debt, family obligations and under-water mortgages.

Some folk thought that the restrictions were just plain wrong. There were no speakers addressing the possible ill effects of a no-restraint policy.

What struck us was the level of abuse of the ordinance. It seemed most speakers have been renting out their properties or part of their properties for a long time. If there were effective enforcement of the ordinance by the City, one wonders how they got away with it.

Mayor Tecklenberg told Council that he was going to create Committee to look into the issue. But before he got very far, Council member Gregorie reminded him that at the previous Council meeting he agreed that the Community Development Committee should first take on the task. We are not sure what the resolution was but the issue seems likely to be addressed shortly.

A zoning issue was before Council relating to a parcel of land at the corner of King and Spring Streets. The developer wanted a rezoning from General Business to Mixed Use/Workforce Housing, and the height district from 50/30 to 80/30. The Planning Commission was happy about the first request but denied the latter. A representative of the Preservation Society spoke to the issue and asked that the height district remain unaltered. The developer wanted the increase to improve the profitability of the development project and this was not a legitimate reason.

It takes a 75% vote of approval to override the Planning Commission vote. Council went ahead and unanimously approved both requests with little or no discussion on the issue. But it did lead to a broader discussion on whether a supermajority vote on Council was necessary to override the Planning Commission. Council member Waring noted that a 2/3 vote was normal in super majority voting on most bodies. Why such a high level for the City? Indeed should there be a super majority vote? It seems that Mayor Tecklenberg was already considering this is and staff is expected to come back with opinions and proposals in the near future.

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