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City Council, January 23

Annexations in West Ashley to be challenged
Magnolia development resuscitated
Warwick Jones

The main feature of the meeting was the annual State of the City address. The address has already received wide media coverage. We’ll simply state that the Mayor declared that dealing with flooding and drainage was the City’s top priority and that the City will be looking at a number of ways to finance the potentially large funding. Considering the damage suffered in the last two hurricanes, the focus of the Mayor was not unexpected.
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Annexation of properties in the historic plantation district in West Ashley was probably the most important other item on the meeting agenda. Council approved unanimously the annexation of over 5000 acres in a number of parcels which up until very recently were within the unincorporated area of the County. Owners of two of the parcels however had agreed to annex into the City of North Charleston, and understandably were not happy about the proposed annexation. And indeed, a court case is threatened.

The reluctant owners of the two parcels sought annexation into the City of North Charleston because of a likely modification of zoning. The 30 acre Millbrook Plantation is used for special events (weddings, celebrations) and under County zoning is limited to 20 special events a year. Presumably, annexed into North Charleston, the limit will be higher or removed. The 2200 acre Whitfield tract is largely undeveloped. County zoning would limit development to one residence per 8 acres. In North Charleston, a higher density would be allowed.

The City of Charleston considers its proposed annexation as legal under state law. It claims that it has a petition seeking annexation from 75% of the owners of property aggregating more than 75% of the assessed value within the large contiguous area. Under this law it can move ahead with annexation even if some property owners with the area object. OK, this is a simplified summary and I am sure there are some wrinkles. And certainly the owner of the Millbrook Plantation thinks so. He told Council that he will sue the City over the annexation and warned that if he wins, the City would have to pick up his anticipated $250,000 legal bill.

Predictably, the preservation community was out in full force to speak at the public hearing. The included the Historic Charleston Foundation, The Preservation Society, the Coastal Conservation League and the individuals and trusts that owned properties in the Historic Plantation District. All were concerned about the consequences of annexations into North Charleston, the impact on the integrity of the historic district and the inability for Highway 61 to bear the traffic that would follow development.

The issue will now go to the Planning Commission for approval and then back to City Council for final approval.
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Remember the Magnolia development? It was part of the well touted and seemingly certain development of the Neck Area in the early years of the last decade. And like so many projects, the Magnolia project slid into bankruptcy with the onset of the recession that hit the nation at the end of the Bush presidency. The project is now being resuscitated with new owners which includes a once-owned subsidiary of Mead Westvaco.

Council approved some changes in the development agreement to reflect the ownership changes. It also amended the agreement to provide for affordable housing. Initially, the new owners will provide 1.5 acres for Affordable Housing, close to the Rosemont Community. But in the longer term, it agreed to make Affordable Housing of 15% of all residential units constructed. Council member Gregorie asked why it was not 20%, in line with that required in Work Force housing zoning. Staff indicated that the City was restrained by the vested rights of the owners.

We thought the construction obligations of the new owners were interesting. If met by the new owners, a lot more dwellings and commercial space will be added to the City’s stock. Press Download file to see development schedule.
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We were moved by the plight of two property owners on James Island. Seems the City screwed up some 10 years or so ago and approved construction of dwellings that did not meet FEMA’s code. In consequence, FEMA will not offer them flood insurance. They cannot obtain bank loans, and it is not possible to sell their houses. So one of the tearful ladies asked what the City was going to do about it. She claimed that she had sought City help, but it had not stepped forward.

It seems to us that the City has a liability in this issue and the fact that the Mayor spoke to the speaker at the conclusion of her plea, suggests some sympathy. We also think it would be appropriate if the City gave some explanation as to how this situation developed.
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And finally, a vote of the wording on a proposed plaque at the base of the J.C Calhoun statue was deferred. And the Mayor indicated that it would be deferred for an indefinite period, presumably hoping some heat would be released from the issue. If the turn up at Citizens Participation was an indication, it might be a forlorn hope. We’d guess there were about 30 citizens who rose objecting to the proposed plaque and seeking to leave the monument as it is. And if Council member Mitchell's speech that night is any indication, it is unlikely that some members of Council will be softening their hostility to the monument.

We noted comments by two of last night’s speakers and who wanted the monument to stay as is. One claimed that Calhoun’s writings were being used in California to advance the cause of “sanctuary cities”. The other noted the Calhoun was ranked amongst the most prominent senators in US history by President Kennedy in his “Profiles of Courage”.