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City Council, January 8

Questions over Spring-Fishburne drainage project consultant
A rezoning request going nowhere
Marc Knapp

The two items were on the agenda but voting was marked deferred. Notwithstanding, they certainly got our attention and that of Council. They related to spending on the Spring – Fishburne drainage project.

The project has been plodding along for a number of years with Council believing that the cost was continuing within budget. Council was shaken with the revelation late last year that it was not, and could cost some $40 to $50 million more than anticipated. And the unanswered question was from where does the extra funds come?

Both items related to fees payable to Davis and Floyd, the engineering consultant. Council was asked to increase the fee from $879,065 to $1,884,753 for professional services relating to Phase 4 of the project. The second item was for construction, engineering and inspection services, also for Phase 4. This fee was to rise from $1,384,753 to $8,722,213, an increase of $6.8 million.

There was another item on last night’s agenda relating to the project, also deferred. It was approval of Phase 4 construction, and a contract of $51.9 million with Conti Construction Inc. Completion of Phase 4 will not end the project as there is Phase 5 to come.

Council members again expressed concern last night about the cost of the project and the matter will go back to the Public Works Committee. Council member Moody called for a 3rd party review of the work by Davis and Floyd.

We certainly support a 3rd party review. I worked beside Davis and Floyd in the construction of the Intermodal Facility in North Charleston and it made major errors in design which required costly correction. I suspect that Davis and Floyd has severely erred in its service to the City, and I expressed this opinion in Citizen’s participation.
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Council members got another jolt last night about the staff reaction to a request from four members of the Westside Neighborhood Association. The request was to down zone all parcels in the West side with a DR2F (Diverse Residential – front yards not required) to DR1F (Diverse Residential –front yards required). Staff sent out letters to all residents of the West side noting the request and the subsequent action.

There were a number of things that stirred Council’s ire. How could a request from four citizens trigger a response from staff that would put such an issue before the Planning Commission and all that is involved? How could they do this without informing the Council and importantly, not informing the Council member that represents the district? And how could four members of the community request the downzoning of properties in which they had no equity interest? And besides, the requested rezoning amounted to a “taking” and almost certainly would not have got Council approval.

Staff defended itself by saying it was Council policy to take seriously the request of a neighborhood association. They did not necessarily agree with the proposal but noted that there could be significant opposition.

Most Council members spoke to the issue and all expressed alarm and opposition to the proposal. They also wondered as to how City policy could have allowed such a request from four individuals to move forward. Two citizens from the West side had the same opinion.

We don’t know how far the rezoning request will go but we expect not very. We also expect that City policy will be tightened and “maverick” requests as that from the four members of the Westside Association will be ignored.
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First reading was given to an ordinance amendment to increase the Freeboard Requirement from one foot to two feet. Translated, this means that in construction, the base of a building will now need to be 2 feet above the minimum mandated by FEMA. The County already has a 2 foot Freeboard Requirement.
In part, the increase freeboard is a step to mitigate the effect of flooding. But it also should help the City generally by lowering flood insurance premiums. The City hopes to make the ordinance effective by August 1 this year.