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City Council, May 9

Moratorium to limit construction on James Island
Will it be enough?
Marc Knapp

Council last night approved a six month moratorium on the “acceptance and processing of development applications” on James Island pertaining to more than 4 units or 1500 sq.ft. Strangely, the moratorium applied only to “non-residentially zoned districts” and not residential zonings.

The moratorium had an easy passage with no Council member opposed. Council member White indicated his opposition to moratoriums generally. But he thought the critical situation on James Island justified the moratorium. Council member Moody expressed a similar opinion about moratoriums and asked that projects that were partway through the approval and review process be allowed to proceed. Council readily agreed.

Development on James Island has been an issue for some years. And for some years, Council member Wilson who represents a large part of the Island, has been making a lot of noise about it. The developments near the junction of Folly Road and Maybank Highway have been a particular thorn in the sides of the Council member and James Island citizens. It was a test of the then new Gathering Place zoning. The zoning simply was too much, too dense and a costly mistake. But more recently there has been heavy residential development in non-residential zoned sites, slipping under the wire so to speak, and escaping the scrutiny that it deserved.

Citizens from James Island have been turning up at Council meetings for some time, drawing attention to the heavy development occurring on the island, but attendance at recent meetings has been overwhelming. Those who spoke last night were pleased that a six-month moratorium was being considered. But all thought that six months was not enough and some suggested an extension to two years. Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League indicated that the league was not opposed to high-density dwellings, but he decried the lack of infrastructure and of interconnectivity on the Island. Other speakers noted the inadequate infrastructure and also the problem of dealing with issues when the administration of the island was broken up between the City of Charleston, The Town of James Island, and the County.

All Council members spoke to the issue and expressed sympathy for the plight of James Islanders. Some thought that six months was not long enough to sort out the problems and find solutions. But others pointed out that the ordinance did not preclude Council from extending the moratorium if it were necessary.

The City of Charleston does not have a good history in its relationship with the Town of James Island at least until recent times. They came together, and with the County, in shaping the Folly Road Overlay zoning. The City also ceded some land to James Island for its new town hall. The Mayor of the Town joined the speakers last night and offered his support so we think that the City, Town and County will be united in their efforts to help sort out the present problems. And it seems these problems will be alleviated, though not solved, by zoning changes and increased infrastructure spending.
As we noted above, it was strange that the moratorium did not apply to residential zonings. This doesn’t make sense and we’d expect residents and some Council members to press for its inclusion at the second reading.

We noted above that James Islanders were out in force last night. But so were members and supporters of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM). Like the James Islanders, they were manifest in more recent Council meetings. Their message was constant but with a little more added. The constant message was the seeming racial discrimination of the City’s police force in stopping and searching vehicles being driven by black folk. They wanted the police actions be audited by an experienced auditor.

Nearly all of the speakers last night added attacks on the Mayor and white Council members. The speakers said they voted for these folk but were disappointed with their inaction and refusal to attend a CAJM meeting to discuss the issue. The corollary was don’t expect their support in future.

We gave our view on the issue in a report on the Council meeting last month. It does seem that some searches have been heavy handed and but overall, we believe the police acted in good faith attempting to lessen the incidence of crime. We can understand the frustration and resentment of those folks that are pulled over and searched. But this has to been set against crime that is prevented. It is not an easy call.

We would add this. We know some black Council members have strong views on the issue and oppose the stop and search policy. But none has risen and spoken about it. The same applies to the white Council members and the Mayor. Considering the number of citizens that have spoken at Council meetings, some response from the Mayor would be justified. Maybe it’s just a matter of “let sleeping dogs lay”. Speaking to the issue may create acrimony and no solution.