Out of the thousands of words in the city's 118-page 10-year comprehensive plan, four of them nearly kept Charleston City Council from approving the proposal, and it all had to do with cruise ships. In the end, the brief but terse debate clearly shows which Charleston City Council members have set sail and which members are keeping their feet on dry land.
The plan, the product of countless hours of community input, traffic studies, and zoning reviews, charts the course for the Holy City over the next decade. In a section on the city's tourism and hospitality industry, the comprehensive plan notes the State Ports Authority's "burgeoning" cruise ship business. It also mentions the Union Pier redevelopment.
"The new passenger terminal will make the operation much more efficient and reduce local impacts while opening about 35 acres to non-maritime redevelopment," the plan reads.
Residents and CCL argued it was too early to speculate on the effects of the new terminal, leading Councilman Blake Hallman to suggest removing the phrase "and reduce local impacts."
"We don't change the body of the study," he argued. "We don't make any condemnation of the cruise industry."
The mayor was quick to defend the language, and he wasn't alone. Councilman Dean Riegel said it was too late to consider a change. "To start nitpicking and pull it apart, I don't think is productive," he said. "The motion was made, and I call the question."
Councilman Gary White, a Daniel Island homeowner whose district includes downtown residents upset with the cruise industry, supported keeping the language in the document. "I think it is hard for me to believe that the redevelopment of the site won't improve the traffic flow," White said.
Councilman Mike Seekings, a peninsula resident, sought a compromise. "I think it's a wonderful idea," he said of the Union Pier redevelopment. "I think it will be a total generational game-changer in Charleston."
However, Seekings noted that the city hasn't done any studies of its own on the impact of the new terminal. All the council had was the good word of the State Ports Authority.
So Seekings suggested inserting language into the comprehensive plan noting that "the State Ports Authority has represented and believes that the new passenger terminal" will reduce local impacts.
He didn't frame it as a motion, so the mayor brushed aside the proposal, asking if there was any further discussion. Riegel quickly called again for a vote. Seekings clarified that he was, indeed, making a motion to change the language, earning the frustration of another ardent cruise supporter: Councilman James Lewis.
"You just said the plan was a good plan," Lewis told Seekings, suggesting the very fate of the comprehensive plan lied in preserving those four words. "If we keep nitpicking, nitpicking, we are just going to tear the plan apart. ... My God, you can't have your cake and eat it too. And these folks downtown want their cake and eat it too. I am getting sick of this."
The mayor then said he wanted to keep the language as it was, and the council voted 9 to 4 to leave the language as is.
In the end, Hallman, Seekings, Tim Mallard, and Kathleen Wilson voted in favor of the revision that would have stated that the State Ports Authority claimed the new Union Pier terminal would reduce impacts to the community. Riley, Riegel, White, and Lewis, along with council members Robert Mitchell, Jimmy Gallant, Dudley Gregorie, Louis Waring, and Aubrey Alexander, voted to support the declaration that the cruise terminal was an unmitigated positive for the city.