Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Charleston City Council gives initial approval to apartment moratorium on James Island

Six-month pause gains OK

Posted by Dustin Waters on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 9:27 AM

click to enlarge A six-month ban will pause approvals for developments exceeding four units or 15,000 square feet in the non-residential districts of James Island - GOOGLE EARTH
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  • A six-month ban will pause approvals for developments exceeding four units or 15,000 square feet in the non-residential districts of James Island
Charleston City Council has heeded the call from James Island residents to pause high-density development in their community — even if the preferred length of the moratorium remains a topic of debate.

Tuesday evening, City Council members gave initial approval to a six-month ban on new properties in non-residentially zoned districts that exceed four units or 15,000 square feet. The decision comes less than two months after residents showed up in force at a City Council meeting at the James Island Recreation Complex to call for a two-year pause on new apartment developments. James Island residents returned before City Council this week to again say development has outpaced infrastructure improvements on the island, leading to traffic problems and growing concerns over flooding.

While the proposed moratorium was welcomed news for the island residents who addressed City Council Tuesday, criticism remained over whether or not the moratorium went far enough. The ordinance states that the 180-day moratorium would allow the city’s Planning Department to study all non-residential zoning districts on the island and recommend any changes necessary to promote a healthy balance.
“We want to keep moratoriums as short as possible, and we felt that six months would allow us enough time to make the necessary thinking, planning, and changes that we will bring back to council at the end of six months,” Mayor John Tecklenburg told members of City Council.

Councilman William Dudley Gregorie assured that he would support the moratorium on the initial reading, but called for additional work to be done on the ordinance to include specific mention of drainage, transportation, and the option of extending the moratorium following six months.

“We need to look more comprehensively at the island, especially as it relates to the transportation issues, the drainage issues, just the infrastructure in general. I can’t see us just dealing with the zoning alone in a study,” said Gregorie, who claimed that his previous requests to include a drainage study in the ordinance were ignored. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us, while we have the moratorium to be a bit more comprehensive in our approach. Six months may not be enough time. We don’t know that yet.”

Councilman Rodney Williams cautioned against a two-year moratorium, concerned over the city’s growing challenges with creating more affordable housing for lower-income residents. Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson echoed Williams’ point, saying that the rapid growth of apartments on James Island has not led to an increase in the affordable housing stock. Wilson, who represents much of James Island, has been extremely vocal when it comes to reassessing new development on the island and working to provide a better balance of retail and office space.

“Quite honestly, for all the James Islanders that are here, we simply do not have the votes on this council for a two-year moratorium. That’s the long and short of it,” said Wilson. “However, with the six months, with the option to extend, I think that could pass this evening, and we could do a much more top-to-bottom report on the island and gain from the islanders what sort of sense of place they value.”

With the approval of an apartment moratorium on James Island imminent, Councilman Robert Mitchell took the opportunity Tuesday evening to address the calls for moratoriums in other sections of the city, namely on the peninsula. From concerns over affordable housing and continued flooding downtown, Mitchell asked his fellow members of council when these problems may be addressed in the center of the city.

“I tell people every day, we can do it over here, but the people in the peninsula still want to know what we are going to do here because we are facing the same problems so far as housing, so far as drainage,” said Mitchell.

He added, “We are not getting the nucleus right before we go outside. And this is where everything started from, right in the peninsula and it starts spreading out. If we don’t get the nucleus right, everything is still going to fail anyway.”

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