The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
City Council, February 28
Grievances about traffic congestion, flooding and development
A shaky first step in amending Accommodation OverlayMarc Knapp
It was not happy meeting. Citizens aired their grievances about traffic congestion, flooding and development. And Council was unhappy about the proposed changes to the Accommodations Overlay, though in a close vote, the amended ordinance was given its first reading.
Complaints about traffic congestion are frequent at Council meetings. Last night, the complaints were focused on Folly Road and came with the public hearing on the rezoning of a property on Folly Road. The applicant was seeking a Limited Business zoning, the same zoning on an adjacent property owned by the applicant. Both properties would be a site for a new restaurant. There were a number of speakers opposed to the rezoning and although the applicant had no intention of undertaking residential development, speakers noted that the new zoning would allow up to 40 residential units. Further, traffic on Folly Road was becoming more congested and some noted the grid lock that occurred last weekend when Folly Beach held a festival. Something had to be done to stem development which was exacerbating congestion.
We think that Council was sympathetic to the views of the citizens. But as Council member Wilson and others noted, property owners had rights which came with the zoning. What the applicant was seeking was essentially a “down” zoning, more limiting in uses than that of the original zoning. The owner if it wished could have undertaken residential development. So despite the sympathy, Council unanimously approved the rezoning.
There were two items on the agendas that precipitated interest in flooding. First was the authorization to perform emergency repairs amounting to $894,000 at Whitechapel Circle on James Island. Staff spoke on the item and noted that the original laid-down pipes were failing and that sink holes were forming. It seems that a lot more work needs to be done and all of the pipes replaced in the development. We can only surmise but we suspect the final repair bill will be much more than that for emergency repairs. Presumably the City inspected and authorized the pipe system in the development. What went wrong?
The other item was the proposed moratorium on development in areas around Bees Ferry Road. This whole area has been subject to periodic flooding, in some instances even after normal rain. The speeches were emotional and one in particular, very much so. The citizen showed photographs of the flooding and noted that in the last rain there were 3 inches of water in her house. She had sent numerous letters to the Mayor and City and had received no response. Mayor Tecklenberg looked very uncomfortable and acknowledged that he had received her recent letter. Council member Waring sensing her despair, rose and kindly walked her back to her seat. The moratorium which was agreed to last night will extend for nine months. In that time, a consultant hired by the City will conduct a study to make a recommendation as to what should be done to mitigate the flooding.
Predictably, I spoke in Citizens Participation to note that for some years I had been warning of the laxity of the City in dealing with drainage and storm water. The remedies after so many years of neglect could be expensive.
Finally the Accommodation Overlay amendment. This was to be a first step of a broader amendment to City ordinances to shape and restrain hotel development within the City. For a time last night, it looked as though it would stumble, but it recovered and squeaked through.
Before Council was a map showing the Overlay District on the Peninsula and the properties within the district that the City proposed to exclude. These properties included churches, parking stations, residential and commercial developments which in the opinion of the City were not presently suitable for hotel development. Overall there were 86 properties excluded. Letters had been sent to the owners of these properties noting the proposed exclusion. It was noted by both the Mayor and staff that those properties that were excluded would be able to be included in the overlay zone by application to the Board of Zoning Appeals. By the way the Mayor spoke, it would seem only a simple, almost automatic process, to be again included in the overlay zone. He also noted that he considered the major amendments to the ordinance relating to regional planning, transport, shuttles etc. would follow-up this first step.
There was also another map but not in the public package which defined the size of hotels in specific areas.
There was an hour-long debate over the amendments and we would summarize it as follows. Council
members generally agreed that something needed to be done to restrain the growth of hotels on the Peninsula. But how was this to be done? And if it is done as the Mayor suggests with the removal of properties from the existing overlay zone then more work was needed and more notice given to the owners of the affected properties. Probably no Council member disagreed that more work was necessary and more notice given. The issue then became as to whether the proposed amendment should be deferred or given its first reading. Those wishing for a first reading said that there was plenty of time to gather more information and the views of property owners, the public and the Planning Commission before the second reading. The latter could be scheduled any time. No, said others, it is not right to move even to a first reading without all of the necessary information.
So a vote was taken to defer the issue and it was defeated with seven nays and six ayes. Those favoring deferral included Council members Waring, Gregorie, Wagner, Moody, Riegel and White. Council then voted to giving a first reading with only Waring, Gregorie, Wagner and Moody opposed.
It will be interesting to see the progress of amending the ordinance. Staff seemed to think that with few letters in opposition, that the majority of owners whose properties were excluded from the overlay were happy. Councilmember Moody didn’t share this view. He knew of some property owners that were quite unhappy about the exclusion and he thought that the absence of a reply should not signify approval. We suspect that the majority of private property owners will opt to remain within the accommodation overlay. They may never take advantage of the inclusion, but why give it up?