CARTA, Parking fees, Charleston School Board, East Central 

News Blips

"These storms are about more than losing a roof or having a tree down in the yard. They can be deadly."

Gov. Mark Sanford warning coastal residents against apathy when it comes time for hurricane evacuations. Charleston County's evacuation plan can be found at www.charlestoncounty.org.

CARTA Takes Advantage of Gas Pinch

Gas prices nationally are expected to peak at $4.15 this summer (thumbs up), but they're likely to stay there (thumbs down). As part of a national program, the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) participated in Dump the Pump last week, offering free rides on June 19. It's also added a fuel calculator to www.RideCARTA.com, allowing customers to measure how much they'll save by riding the bus. The system's express routes have reportedly saved riders as much as $200 a month. The authority also says ridership is up 20 percent from this time last year. —Greg Hambrick

State Gives Parking Violators a Break

Charleston drivers will have another two weeks to pay their parking tickets under a new state law that prevents municipalities from charging late fees for parking violations until at least 30 days after tickets are issued. Historically, Charleston has charged $8 or $22 depending on the parking violation. Previously, the rates had increased to $12 and $32 after 10 days, and up to $17 and $42 after 20 days. Under the new state law, the city will charge the standard fine ($8 and $22) for 30 days, then the $17 and $42 fees apply. The city makes more than

$1.46 million a year from delinquent parking fees. City officials don't know how the new law will impact those funds. They say 40 percent pay before 20 days and up to 35 percent pay after that, but they don't have figures on how many paid on time in the first 10 days. ­—Greg Hambrick

78

That's the new average life expectancy for Americans. It's the same age as Scotch Tape, Twinkies, and nighttime baseball games. Source: The Associated Press, Wikipedia

School Board Rebuffs District Budget

The Charleston County School Board has approved a $323.5 million budget that pulled $7.6 million from the district's reserve fund to shore up lost revenue from the state. The district's plan, developed by new Finance Chief Michael Bobby, involves a number of cost-saving measures, including a school lunch price increase, the sale of more than three-dozen district-owned school buses, the one-year elimination of summer school next year, and a reduction in pay increases for the district's non-teaching staff. The board approved the budget 5-4, with Brian Moody phoning in the tie-breaker.

Bobby says the district would rebuild the reserve balance with the sale of excess property, but board members are unimpressed with the short-term solution.

"It makes me a little squeamish," says board member Gregg Meyers. "If we take properties and sell them next year, how do we sustain that?"

Long-term solutions will have to include a change in the way the district delivers its services, translated by some board members as a call for school closings or consolidations.

The change in school lunch prices would bring all schools to a $2 rate. Current prices run from $1.65 to $1.75. Bobby says the price increase will generate about $500,000.

The new budget is expected to mean a $44 tax increase on a $200,000 home. It should mean a $71 tax increase for second-home and business owners with a $200,000 property. —Greg Hambrick

Finding character in East Central

The City of Charleston's reimagined preservation plan is looking to protect more than just the peninsula, with planners analyzing assets in the city's boundaries that, while not historically relevant, may be culturally significant.

The city is developing a character analysis for communities to use to weigh what's need to preserve a certain area's character, like limiting height restrictions to conform to neighborhood standards. And they're also looking to create a little character in areas where it doesn't currently exist, potentially by highlighting features like tree-lined sidewalks.

"It's about what we, as a community, want to see there and how we can be proactive in delivering that," says Michael Maher, the director of the Charleston Civic Design Center.

With fresh access off the Cooper River bridge, a steady flow of port traffic, and two new mixed-use developments, the East Central area is a test case for this new tool. Essentially, the area is everything east of Interstate 26 from Huger to Mt. Pleasant streets.

By walking the entire community, planners identified two areas with the type of cohesion that could be lost in unkempt development: a strip on and around Meeting Street from the old Coca-Cola building to just north of the trolley barn, as well as an area around Cedar and Nassau streets that's made up of small residential homes and old freedmen's cottages.

As it currently stands, these areas are left largely to the generic design standards in the city's zoning codes. While properties on Meeting Street have to go through the city's Corridor Review Board, any property off the road could reach the furthest extent of the city's regulations with no vehicle for objection — potentially allowing new three story homes to loom over neighboring lots. Maher says this and other problems can be addressed by tweaking rules in these areas.

Other parts of the East Central community with little character, like Morrison Drive (home to the City Paper offices and a scrap yard). Maher and other planners see traits they can exploit on this strip to build up character, like adding to that trees that line the sidewalks.

Community leaders are expected to take the reins for character analysis in other areas once the city has worked through the East Central analysis. —Greg Hambrick


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