The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, December 20

Asks State to allow inclusionary zoning for affordable housing
Council not happy about proposed consultant hire
Warwick Jones

We thought the most interesting item on the agenda for last night’s meeting was the resolution relating to affordable housing. It seemed that Council did not share our view for there was no discussion. We thought there should have been.

The resolution is directed at the State and requests that counties and municipalities be allowed to introduce “inclusionary” zoning to generate more affordable housing. Presently, developers are encouraged to provide affordable housing, typically by a density allowance – more dwelling units on a site in return for affordable housing units. The option to provide affordable housing is for the developer to exercise. In inclusionary zoning, the provision can be mandated or a penalty imposed if no affordable housing units are included. It could go something like this – at least 10% of the units in a housing development must be affordable units. If no affordable units are provided, the developer must pay, on those units that make up 10% of the total, $10,000 per unit to a housing non- profit.

There are other ways that inclusionary zoning can be imposed. But whatever way, it is likely to drive up the cost of housing. If a developer is forced to give up its profit on say 10% of the units in a development, it will either walk away from the development or raise the selling price on the market rate housing.

We’d expect developers to have some strong views on inclusionary zoning. We also expect that it could be a hard sell in Columbia. And perhaps because of the latter, Council members who might have skeptical views about such zoning, decided that debate was a waste of breath. Press Download file to see resolution.

You have to have some sympathy for Mayor Tecklenberg. He came to office with a plan to revitalize West Ashley. He proposed that a Commission be formed and although Council agreed to the initiative, it was unhappy with the proposed composition. After some months of delay, Council finally adopted the composition proposed by the Mayor. Then there was the West Ashley Tax Increment Finance zoning. It sailed through City Council but the County trimmed its sails.

Last night, the Council had before it a proposal to hire a consultant to guide the West Ashley Revitalization Commission in its task. The Mayor and staff had followed all the normal procurement rules and regulations leading to the proposed hire but again Council members had issues. Although we believe there will be a successful resolution of the issue, it was another delay of a much-delayed initiative.

When a consultant is to be retained, it is normal for a committee of staff and Councilmembers to be formed. In this particular case, the committee issued “requests for proposals” and received 11 responses. The committee reviewed the applications and the field narrowed to four. Presentations by each of the four finalists were heard and Dover, Kohl and Partners out of Florida was chosen. It agreed to be the consultant for a fee of $499,000.

Council member Waring led the charge opposed to the hiring. It was a long and tedious charge, oblivious to the groans from attendees. It was finally interrupted by the Ways and Means Chair who felt that whatever the maximum time was for a speech, it had been well exceeded. Council member Waring was unhappy that the Commission had not been involved in the hiring process and that the Commission should hear presentations from the four finalists. It had heard only that of Dover, Kohl.

Every Council member weighed in on the issue. Council member Gregorie thought that staff could do the job of the consultant and with cost savings. And why a cost of near $500,00 when there was a budget of $350,000? What was the City getting for the extra $150,000? Council member Shahid thought that what ever system the City had for procurement should apply to all projects. Council member Seekings thought Council should approve the staff recommendation but that it be conditional on a renegotiation.

The deliberations lasted for about an hour and the first vote was to defer the issue. This failed and was followed by a vote to approve the hire. This too failed. Staff will now go back to Dover Kohl and attempt renegotiate the contract. This probably means a lower fee. If there is no agreement, staff will begin negotiations with the second ranked firm.

Ho hum.

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