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City Council, September 18

IAAM takes first step toward construction
Staff to wok on exceptions for Short Term Rental ordinance
Marc Knapp

Because of Hurricane Florence, the meeting scheduled for Tuesday last week was moved to last night. And unlike the previous meeting, thankfully lasted only a few hours.

There was nothing momentous on the agenda but there were certainly items of interest. Council gave the nod for the International African American Museum to move toward construction. It approved a contract with Turner Construction Company for “preconstruction services of the development of the Guaranteed Maximum Price for construction of the museum. Approval of the contract will obligate $115,000 of the $12.5 million design and engineering phase of the project, funded by previously approved accommodation tax bonds”.

Mayor Riley spoke to the request and noted that museum had raised the $75 million target to fund construction. Predictably, he spoke warmly of the importance of the museum and the time taken to reach the financing goal. He noted the Convention and Visitors Bureau had estimated the economic impact of the museum on the community at $125 million in the first year. The impact was estimated to fall to $100 million in subsequent years.

Will the $75 million be enough? Building costs have risen substantially in recent years with the area’s building boom. It seems that the museum building’s design has been determined. If the museum sticks with this design, there may be disappointment when it comes to costing.

Staff gave a report on progress on implementing the Short Term Rental (STR) Ordinance. In summary, there was progress but it would take more time – a few months – to fully assess the impact and make recommendations for change and modification. At least that was the view of Planning Director Lindsay. He noted that 181 STRs had been grandfathered under the ordinance and there were 102 new applications, 9 of which were denied, 2 approved and 3 pending.

Dan Riccio of the Livability Court didn’t feel so weighed down. Using the new software, his department had recognized 1669 Short term listings of which 1297 were being evaluated So far, 58 listings were found to be compliant and 185 non compliant. Mr. Riccio noted that the City and County were using the same software and were cooperating. There were a number of properties found that should be assessed at the 6% rate and not 4%.

Council member Seekings noted that there were skeptics who thought that it would be difficult to enforce the new ordinance. But the ordinance is being enforced, he said. Not all Council members were pleased. Implementation seemed to be taking too long. Council member Waring was particularly displeased. When the ordinance was passed some months ago, staff was instructed to work on wording for exceptions. These had been spelled out at the meeting when the ordinance passed and included more latitude for owner-occupied dwellings, residences in commercial areas, residences close to parking lots, and some relaxation of the rules applied to the Historic areas. It was now 4 months since the passage of the ordinance and still nothing. Council member Waring also requested that funds derived from STR licenses be earmarked for Affordable Housing.

Staff indicated that it would work on language for the exceptions. We thought that it expected to submit drafts by the next meeting - one week hence.

We think that some folk will be upset by the re-assignment of the lease over the City Marina to Safe Harbor Marinas LLC. The lease is presently held by The City Marina Company, a subsidiary of the Beach Company. It is not the transfer that is concerning but the plan of the new lessee to spent $20 million extending the docks. Viewers may remember the ire the Beach Company generated a decade or so ago when with no notice, it extended the docks. Safe Harbor will also contribute to the Ashley River walk, Council member Seekings said.

Safe Harbor is a large company owing a number of marinas. The Beach Company is taking a small interest in the company presumably as consideration.