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July is prime time for vacations and BBQs, but our local councils were busy this week making decisions with big implications for businesses and residents.
Governance by the Vocal (and Visible)
In Mount Pleasant, town council rejected a measure to allow voters to determine their future representation method at the ballot box this November. At issue was whether town council members should represent individual districts or continue to be selected at-large.
Nearly 8,400 registered Mount Pleasant voters signed a citizen petition calling for the right to vote to decide. A couple hundred more signatures would have automatically placed the question on the ballot.
The Charleston Metro Chamber doesn’t have a position on the issue. We share the story as an example of the power of showing up and speaking up.
More citizens signing the petition than voted for any single candidate in Mount Pleasant’s last council election. Despite that, members of council responded to demands of a vocal crowd opposed to single member districts and decided not to put the question on the ballot.
A hundred people showing up and speaking up trumped more than 8 thousand voters signing up.
Changes to a Critical Zone
Also this week, Charleston city council voted to change the rules on the Mixed Use/Workforce Housing Zone. The zoning code sounds arcane, and it is. But it’s important because this zone is the one most frequently used for multifamily buildings on the peninsula.
Because of our market strength and high demand, the chamber is concerned about the supply of housing of all types across the region. We particularly care about the avalibity of apartments in areas well-served by transit and walkable to job centers.
The changes to this often used zone mean developers must now offer below-market rents in 20% of their units for 25 years or else pay a fee-in-lieu of $5.10 per square foot to opt out of that requirement. Previously, developments in this zone had to offer below-market rents in 15% of units for 10 years and there was no payment option.
Many in the development community expressed concern that the higher requirement and proposed fee rate would challenge the viability of projects and could direct land development into uses other than housing. The Chamber urged council to ensure the viability of the Mixed Use/Workforce Housing zone and establish thresholds and a fee-in-lieu rate that encourage continued development.
Increasing available housing at attainable rents is a laudable goal that we share with the city. We also want continue to add market-rate housing in our urban core. We hope this week’s changes don’t unintentionally harm both goals.