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County Council, November 15

Approval for West Ashley TIF district likely
City looking to make provision of Affordable Housing mandatory

Warwick Jones

We suspect there was a lot of discussion between City and County Council members prior to last night’s County meeting. At its last meeting, the County Finance Committee voted down the West Ashley TIF district proposed by the City of Charleston and clearly, Mayor Tecklenberg and City Council members were disappointed. The revitalization of West Ashley is a major objective of the Mayor and the TIF was possibly the most important tool in achieving it.

But it seems that the Mayor will get his way. County Council effectively voted down the proposed TIF but indicated that it would look favorably upon it if the term were reduced from 25 to 20 years and plans made more specific to deal with affordable housing. Council members Darby and Qualey however indicated that they were unmoved by the Mayor’s address last night and would vote against the TIF regardless.

The discussion last night was similar to that at the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday. Council member Qualey thought that a TIF was unnecessary. The TIF district was not blighted and from his observation many businesses were thriving. Any infrastructure needs could be addressed with access to the half-cent sales tax. He also thought that it was unfair to citizens outside West Ashley and that the denial of increased tax revenues from the area could lead to general tax increases for all residents of the County. Council members Johnson and Pryor thought that the 25 year term was too long and that 20 or 15 would be better. Council member Darby was very concerned about the impact on property values and the ability of poor folk to afford to live in the area. He specifically called for a program to provide affordable housing.

Mayor Tecklenberg was prepared to reduce the term of the TIF to 20 years but indicated that it would probably take 5 years or so before assessed values and property taxes began to significantly increase and be able to support the TIF. The inference was that a reduction to less than 20 years would affect its viability. He also indicated that the City was very active in providing affordable housing and intended to make provision in the TIF area. But there were no specific plans that he referred to and it was clear that Council member Darby was skeptical.

The Mayor spoke at length about the benefits of a TIF district and those enjoyed by the City in the past, references similar to those made by Council member Condon in the Finance Committee meeting. He also emphasized that spending was only on infrastructure and no money would be used to finance private developments. He specifically mentioned the critical need for drainage and sidewalk improvements. But he opined that the TIF district would benefit the surrounding area as well, and ultimately Charleston generally.

We expect the City to modestly revise its plan by reducing the term to 20 years and most likely, the amount it plans to raise. More information on affordable housing and other items is also likely to be provided. And it is our opinion. County Council will approve the TIF when the plan is re submitted in early December.

There was one part of Mayor Tecklenberg’s address we found particularly interesting. He was waxing about the City’s efforts to provide affordable housing and the great need for it. He then revealed that the City was considering increasing the density bonuses by raising the work force housing limits in projects to 25% from 15% presently. Even more, he was planning on approaching Columbia seeking the ability for the City to make mandatory the provision of affordable housing. The latter may have a noble objective but it will come at a price that the community may not be prepared to pay. We also expect it will come with considerable debate and hostility. We will wait and see what is proposed.

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