Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s decision to deliver his second State of the City address from Founders Hall at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site — a first for a Charleston mayor — marked his continued focus on redeveloping West Ashley.
The mayor said the area is a “critical part of our future” and that it has “become the center of the single largest and most comprehensive renewal and revitalization effort in our city’s history.”
During his campaign, Tecklenburg promised a renewed focus on the West Ashley area, making it more amenable to pedestrians and more desirable for businesses. He said it would no longer be “the redheaded stepchild” compared with the peninsula.
Since Tecklenburg became mayor last January, the West Ashley Revitalization Commission has launched. It is modeled after the Downtown Revitalization Commission of the 1970s and ’80s, which former Mayor Joe Riley championed to transform King Street into a shopping and tourism destination.
The new commission is working with West Ashley residents to create a master plan for development. A $69 million tax increment financing district has been created as a fund for redevelopment efforts, and $37 million has been set aside for parking and capital projects over the next few years.
The city and Charleston County are collaborating on the DuWap Community Plan, and the city also launched the West Ashley Farmers Market. Tecklenburg said those efforts will continue in 2017, as well as more drainage work, particularly in the Church Creek Drainage Basin.
On the peninsula, Tecklenburg said two initiatives will soon be considered by City Council: a new set of revisions for the Board of Architectural Review, designed to strengthen preservation; and changes to hotel zoning regulation, designed to bring overdevelopment under control.
Tecklenburg said James Island saw improvements to recreation facilities; design work is underway to bring a third lane on Maybank Highway for Johns Island residents; and a new recreation center is planned for Daniel Island.
He said major focus points in the year ahead include the citywide creation of more affordable housing options, the completion of major transportation projects and the development of a plan to handle rising sea levels.
Tecklenburg said a new affordable housing ordinance has been broached this year. It would require future developments to include affordable units.
The city also is in the process of creating a Community Land Trust with Historic Charleston Foundation that would enable more affordable housing to be created and would require that it remain that way over time.
The city has acquired new lots and plans to make them available for affordable housing units; the city also rehabilitated several homes and rental properties in exchange for long-term affordability agreements.
“It’s clear that housing affordability is a regional issue, at a crisis level, and we must use every tool at our disposal and work with all partners to provide more affordable housing products in the Charleston region,” Tecklenburg said.
Tecklenburg highlighted public transit and improved infrastructure as a major focus, to improve citizens’ quality of life. Many residents are stuck in traffic every day commuting between home and work; others who do not own cars struggle to access their jobs or grocery stores.
Tecklenburg said he hopes to work with area leaders to move the Interstate 526 extension forward. The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank board recently granted the county a three-month extension to come up with enough funding for the shortfall.
He wants to use funds from the county’s half-cent sales tax, which voters approved in November, to pay for a flyover at Main Road and Savannah Highway, widening of the Glenn McConnell Parkway and major improvements to Folly Road and Savannah Highway.
Some of the funding will also support a bus rapid transit system, which will eventually run between Summerville and downtown Charleston, and improved routes for the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority, Tecklenburg said.
Tecklenburg said he plans to have a citywide review of parking policies this year, building off the introduction of more parking meters and a pilot program designed to make parking more affordable for late-night hospitality workers downtown.
He said he wants more infrastructure improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians in 2017. He mentioned work on the Huger Street streetscape project and completion of West Ashley Greenway improvements in Carolina Bay along Highway 17. He did not mention the bike lane on the T. Allen Legare Bridge, which has been approved but is now stalled.
Tecklenburg said the city will continue to work on various drainage projects to help alleviate flooding in areas of downtown and West Ashley, but he said more needs to be done to prepare the city for rising water levels.
“We know that sea level rise and extreme weather events are creating challenges that our city simply cannot solve with its existing practices and procedures,” Tecklenburg said.
He created a new position — director of emergency management and resilience — to work with area leaders to prioritize projects and strategize so Charleston can be better prepared for hurricanes, flooding and rising sea levels. Mark Wilbert, the city’s emergency management director, will assume this role.