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Plan West Ashley draft released to calls for more work, revisions

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September 28, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editorl

Somewhere in the 240-or-so pages of the Plan West Ashley draft report released to the public last week lies a glimmer of what West Ashley may look like in the coming decades.

The draft report release was the middle step in an inclusive public process to define issues and obstacles to comfortable growth that will enable the private and public sectors to work together to make the West Ashley of the future as livable and prosperous as possible.

On Monday, members of the West Ashley Revitalization Commission met at the Schoolhouse – a converted elementary school that is now a new-business incubator and perhaps a metaphor for the entire effort — to dig into the document.

Led by Victor Dover, one of the principals of the Dover Kohl urban planning firm leading the process — members met in stations throughout the main meeting hall to pick and parse their way through the enormous document.

Over and over again, Dover encouraged the commission members to figure out what was missed, what needed to be fixed, and what everyone — from “citizen planners” coming to open planning curettes to seasoned professional urban planners — got right.

“Somewhere in there are the ‘great ideas’ for this community, and maybe some deal killers or other ideas that need rethinking,” said Dover.

The draft report is huge. And has to survive two more rounds of public scrutiny before it can be presented even to the city’s Planning Commission for a public hearing, tentatively scheduled for November. After that, if the final report draft is approved for recommendation by the WARC, it will go to City Council and the public once again for final approval or disapproval.

And the topics it covers are sweeping, from land use to transportation, to infrastructure, to housing, and finally economic development. It calls for major reworking of intersections, some sort of enhanced bicycle and pedestrian link to and from the peninsula, beautification of entryways into West Ashley, improvements to commercial corridors, as well as infill of the West Ashley Traffic Circle.

And that’s not even the half of it.

For a full view of draft report, go to the city’s websites and follow the links, or just go directly to http://www.charleston-sc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/16157.

The biggest issue the public input identified was the growing traffic and congestion in the region. A host of solutions are included in the plan, including a water taxi service stretching deeper along the Ashley River, and what amounts to extending the peninsular DASH service to West Ashley.

Even with increasingly onerous traffic, spurred on in part by the large number of West Ashley residents who commute by car to jobs in parts of the area, West Ashley remains a hot place to live. As such, rents are rising and may begin to displace current residents in certain neighborhoods.

Dover pointed out that a better, cheaper, more user-friendly transportation system could offset rent escalation and more people could continue to seek homes in West Ashley.

City Councilman Peter Shahid has been handed the reigns to the WARC earlier this year. He said that the weeklong process that further unveiled the plan to the public in other venues had produced good responses and promise for the commission to dig deeper and “not just rubber stamp” the draft plan.

Shahid said he hopes less attention will be spent going forward on Citadel Mall, which is now owned by local private citizen-led private equity group. “We need to work with them, not sink or swim with them,” he said.

Charleston County Councilman and WARC member C. Brantley Moody has been there for every step of the way,

While a fan of how the plan would deal with beautification, branding, and intersection improvements, Moody is less enthused than Shahid.

Moody likened the plan to a “Santa Claus sack,” where there was something in the draft for everyone who showed up at public meetings and asked for a gift.

While he appreciates the effort his WARC colleagues have made and the outpouring of public input that’s been gathered, Moody said the plan is still actually Dover Kohl’s plan. Moody’s father had lobbied against hiring the firm, citing higher costs, despite past success in partnering with the city.

One of Moody’s sticking points was what he saw was the draft plan’s ongoing championing of a bike travel, saying that the questions asked of the public were so tilted in favoring bikes over cars that it would be irresponsible to say the public was uniformly clamoring for expensive bike throughways.

“I remain open to all transportation options that do not involve closing lanes of traffic,” he said.

Moody was one of many who successfully lobbied County Council to kill the proposed conversion of a Legare Bridge lane for bike and pedestrians traffic.

“We need a balance between the well-reasoned vocal minority that lives closer to the Legare Bridge or downtown, and the majority of populace lives deeper in West Ashley and Johns Island and James Island that cannot or will not access a bike lane,” says Moody.

Shahid expects the draft report to be further honed in time for the WARC’s Oct. 17 scheduled meeting.

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