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City Council, August 22

A long meeting and a test of endurance
A resolution on gun violence sent to Columbia
Warwick Jones

Last Tuesday’s Council meeting was the longest we’ve ever experienced. It began with the Ways and Means at 4.30pm and ended well after 10 pm. For Council members, there was a following executive session and which we understand did not end until close to midnight. The long agenda reflected the 3-month summer schedule - meetings are held only once a month compared to twice a month for the rest of the year. I don’t think anybody’s going to disagree that such meetings are too long. They certainly take a toll of Citizens Participation and few citizens stay to speak when the time comes. And we wonder about the stamina of Council members to deliberate on issues which may deserve time and thought. Maybe it’s time to do away with fewer meetings in summer.

We confess to lacking stamina to stay the full length of the Tuesday meeting. Also, the seats are hard and sitting during such a long period becomes painful. Because of other commitments, it was not possible to view the video of the meeting and make our usual commentary within a reasonable time. But traffic on our website however indicated that people were looking for a commentary. So in response, here is an abbreviated summary.

Council agreed to send a Resolution to Columbia requesting a strengthening of gun laws. However, as Council members emphasized, this was only a resolution. Because of state law, the City has very limited ability to legislate on guns. There was an emphasis on making background checks and strengthening the law relating to repeat violations. Police Chief Luther Reynolds gave a short speech on the Resolution which drew loud applause at its conclusion. He said he supported the Second Amendment but agreed more needed to be done to curb gun violence. He supported the need for strengthening the law and background checks and emphasized that it was necessary to put pressure on Columbia. He noted an increase in homicides in the City over the last year, from one last year to eight so far this year. But he added that the actual number of shootings where there was only injury was a multiple of the deaths.
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Council had second thoughts about the plan to exclude Residental as an allowed use in Industrial zonings. The Mayor initiated an amendment some meetings ago, hoping to preserve industrial land for only industrial use. Last night, a citizen spoke before Council and protested. He hoped to redevelop his industrial property but also planned to place a residence there for his own use. This would not be allowed under the proposed ordinance.

There was lengthy discussion and ultimately the matter of excluding residential use was deferred for further consideration.
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And then there was the discussion relating to the $20 million bond that was issued last year to fund affordable housing. Council wanted more details. State law proscribes that the funds can only be used to create rental units and for families in certain income brackets. The City plans on retaining a nonprofit to manage the process of financing. It will be looking for nonprofits and others to provide funds to combine with the bond proceeds to create the housing.
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Council was very hesitant about the proposal to give more powers the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) in relation to the Accommodation Overlay. The City is concerned about the strong growth of hotel construction and possible overbuilding. It wants to take steps to preserve retail and residential space, and particularly affordable housing. It was proposed, amongst other things, that the BZA have the power to require that a developer replace any housing stock that was lost in a development.

Councilmember Wearing asked whether this was a backdoor way of creating a moratorium on hotel construction. Other members had other issues. And there was no disagreement that the issue be deferred and public input sought.