Master Plan Nearing Final Stages
November 17, 2017
By John Steinberger | Contributing Writer
Following a workshop-style meeting of the West Ashley Revitalization Commission (WARC) Wednesday, it appears likely that Charleston City Council could vote on the West Ashley Master Plan as early as February. The WARC could vote to endorse the plan at its Wed., Dec. 13 meeting. The plan would then be analyzed by the City of Charleston Planning Commission January 10 and could clear City Council in February. The adopted plan would be sent back to the WARC for prioritization.
Florida consulting group Dover Kohl drafted the master plan based on community and city staff input. The plan is broken down into the areas of land use, transportation, drainage, housing and economic development. The 17 current WARC commissioners participated in a roundtable-style discussion on those categories. You can read the executive summaries and view graphics for the draft master plan here: http://www.charleston-sc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/16703
In the category of land use, which includes zoning codes, some community concerns expressed include preserving the character of neighborhoods and not allowing high-density development until the infrastructure is in place to support it. Commissioner Michael Miller, a member of the Charleston County School Board, expressed, “In order to preserve the character of a neighborhood, you have to respect the people who live there and understand their concerns.” A case in point was the decision by Charleston County Council to approve multi-story storage facility on St. Andrews Boulevard without taking into account the objection of surrounding neighborhoods to the project.
Transportation has a contentious issue during this year-long planning process. The draft master plan has emphasized more “multi-modal” transportation options, including bicycle paths and mass transit. Surveys conducted during the community workshops held in April and May indicated that 96 percent of West Ashley residents use motor vehicles as their primary form of transportation. There is no indication that a large number of people would ride the bus if suitable routes were available or bicycle long distances during the hot weather months in business attire. Commissioner Morris Ellison noted that the cost of extended rights-of-way for bus stops would be prohibitive. Others have expressed concern about the government seizing private property to implement these alternative transportation plans.
The draft plan acknowledges that paving over wetlands has resulted in more flood-prone property in West Ashley. The plan calls for retro-fitting parks with absorbent plants, expanding buffer zones along waterways, upgrading drainage infrastructure and expanding maintenance, and planting more trees as solutions for the drainage problem. Commissioner Marvin Wagner, a Charleston City Councilman, advised that the WARC receive the recommendations from the Church Creek Drainage Basin Study and a Dupont/Wappoo Stono River drainage basin study before approving the master plan.
The term “affordable housing” has been tossed around a lot lately. City of Charleston voters recently approved a $20 Million affordable housing bond, which is expected to provide 800 rent-subsidized housing units citywide. The federal definition of an affordable housing unit is one which costs 30 percent of one’s before-tax income. Census data indicates that more than 11,000 West Ashley households already pay more than that, with rents that average more than $1300 per month plus utilities. Miller said the area’s high housing prices make teacher recruitment difficult.
Economic development is a complex issue for West Ashley, where 84 percent of the residents commute to other areas. The estimated 30,000 jobs in the area are highly concentrated in the low-paying fields of retail and hospitality. The construction of more office parks could attract more professional jobs. The draft plan focuses on revitalization of Citadel Mall, which already employs more than 900 people. Since being taken over by locally-owned Trademark Properties in early 2017, the landmark shopping center has announced a plan to develop an events center for sports tournaments and dance and cheerleading competitions, which would attract thousands of visitors every weekend. MUSC recently signed a long-term contract to set up an out-patient clinic at the former JC Penney space. The gymnastics and cheerleading studio Flip Gym will be moving to the mall in January.
Take the time to read over the executive summaries and provide feedback to your City Council members, some of whom will be taking office right as the master plan is being voted upon.
John Steinberger is the editor-in-chief of LowcountrySource.com. To contact him, email John@LowcountrySource.com.