Planning West Ashley’s FutureLocals tell professionals how they would like to improve West Ashley
May 3, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor
Hundreds and hundreds … and hundreds of West Ashley residents filled the first two community input meetings last week that could help shape the future of this part of town.
Hosted by the city, the meetings were the first step of what has been named Plan West Ashley, a proposed master planning process to revitalize West Ashley the same way the peninsula and Mt. Pleasant have blossomed over recent decades and years, respectively.
Led by Dover Kohl, the national urban planning company hired recently by City Council under a hail of criticism, the process hopes to produce a set of recommendations for council by the end of the summer.
More than 225 locals filled the gym at John Wesley United Methodist Church last Monday, with close to that number attending the Tuesday meeting in the West Ashley Middle School cafeteria.
With the planners dividing West Ashley into four parts, the area south of St. Andrews Boulevard and east of 526 was the focus Monday, and the area north of that same thoroughfare was the focus on Tuesday. Two more meetings will be held for ‘“outer” West Ashley on Saturday at Bees Landing Recreation Center and West Ashley High from 9 a.m.-noon and 2-5 p.m., respectively.
Both nights last week, the crowds were split into teams of eight and armed with table-sized maps of West Ashley, a pile of colored markers, and instructions to think big.
MUSC researcher Frank Beylotte III attended both meetings, and said he “found it fascinating how different the two meetings were.”
The first meeting, Beylotte said, focused more on Avondale, parking issues, and traffic cutting through neighborhoods, as residents struggle to handle what he termed “post-growth” issues.
“There was a lot of discussion about the growing pains of economic success, but not a lot of discussion of the ‘Motor Mile’ and its effects on the area,” said Beylotte.
Tuesday, locals’ main focus was on traffic jams and economic development, judging by a quickie survey conducted by the planners with the help of computer-linked clickers.
A wide range of the community attended, though minority representation was noticeably low. There was an infant clinging to his mother’s chest, a woman in a wheelchair, another woman with day-glo teal and yellow hair, another with a hat covering her head. Some were in suits, others in scrubs.
Former City Councilman Paul Tinkler was in a tie and rolled-up shirtsleeves, fresh from listening to speech delivered by his mentor, former mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., earlier at The Citadel on how the peninsula was resurrected.
“The thought occurred to me that all we need is to have the same sort of vision, energy, and public involvement and we can recreate what happened downtown in West Ashley,” said Tinkler.
Tinkler took issue with the idea that Plan West Ashley was needed because Riley ignored West Ashley for so long, as many contend, and instead focused redevelopment on the peninsula. Tinkler said that Riley was like the doctor who focused on the “heart and internal organs” of an ailing patient before turning his attention to West Ashley, which he likened to a limb.
Additionally, Tinkler pointed out that he was part of a revitalization effort in the Old Towne area that began nearly 20 years ago, when medians were planted with attractive flowers, and sense of “community pride” began to flourish. Soon after, the Northbridge-area resident said moribund sites became thriving businesses, like Kickin’ Chicken.
Local businessman Ric Sommons would like the process to also create a new identity for West Ashley. “For so long, it’s been ‘West Ashtray,’” he said, ruefully pointing out there are no signs directing drivers to the most populous part of Charleston.
Sommons lives in Edgewater Park and whose first of three Doolittle’s pet supply stores is located on Windermere Boulevard. “If you are looking for West Ashley, you can follow sign to Folly and Savannah, but not to West Ashley.”
“A little more of an identity would not be a bad thing,” said Sommons, who was excited to hear from other teams’ presentations that others in the area share his hopes of improving the greenway and bikeway.
Sommons like Beylotte hopes the planners adhere to the public’s suggestions when crafting its recommendations.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Sommons.
“It’s the beginning of the process, so I want to believe in what the consultants say,” said Beylotte, who will soon make official his candidacy for the West Ashley state House seat currently held by Lin Bennett. “I plan to attend the next two meetings, too, so see what they say.”
Planner Victor Dover, speaking last week from his Miami-area office said the key will be striking the right balance between all the community ideas and future needs with the realities of West Ashley’s current situation.
Dover likened last week’s meetings to a first draft, where notes are taken in the margins. Later in public planning meetings May 8-12, those ideas will be narrowed down, before one last public meeting is held Saturday, May 13 from 10 a.m.-noon at Citadel Mall.
From there, Dover and his professionals will get to work, producing a document that is more than, in his words, “a series of notes taken at large public meetings.”
Dover grew up in the part of Charlotte most like West Ashley, and said he knows the plan won’t be a success if the public doesn’t buy into it. But he said it’s important to make sure that whatever emerges doesn’t include any “deal maker” features, because in the political realm those can become “deal killers.”
Traffic and congestion won’t “magically” disappear, no matter what plan emerges, warned Dover, but if the plan includes alternatives to “sitting in a traffic jam every time you want to go do something.”