Charleston City Council has passed an emergency ordinance that will allow the city’s planning bodies to meet virtually during the coronavirus pandemic to approve projects and receive public input.
The ordinance affects the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Board of Architectural Review and the Design Review Board.
Mayor John Tecklenburg said the ordinance was necessary because the “stay home or work” order Gov. Henry McMaster issued Monday doesn’t affect local government meetings.
“So frankly, what we’re proposing to be able to do with our … boards is in fact just what the governor is not just asking us to do — he’s ordering us to do so,” Tecklenburg said.
A similar ordinance was considered by City Council two weeks ago, but council members were concerned that virtual planning meetings would restrict public participation and they wanted to give the public time to give input on the proposal.
District 9 Councilman Peter Shahid was one of three council members to vote against the ordinance, citing the same concerns that had been brought up a fortnight ago.
“I’m afraid with this process, we’re losing out a lot on the face-to-face, person-to-person communication that we need to have,” he said.
Shahid added that one of the public comments came from a former chairman of the Planning Commission, and he gave that a lot of weight.
“This is such a drastic step that we’re taking, and having to cut out the little man on this thing that I’m going to vote against it,” he said.
District 1 Councilwoman Marie Delcioppo and District 8 Councilman Mike Seekings also voted against the proposal.
Jacob Lindsey, Charleston’s planning director, said 37 agenda items have already been advertised at five meetings that were canceled in the past few weeks, and an additional seven upcoming meetings were in jeopardy in the coming weeks without a virtual meeting ordinance.
The public will be able to participate in the virtual meetings by writing or calling with their comments ahead of time; speaking at the virtual meeting via the platform being utilized; or appearing via video at a physical location provided by the city.
City Council meets via Zoom and broadcasts its meetings on the city’s YouTube channel, though all public comments at City Council meetings thus far have been received in writing or via voicemail.
The city plans to conduct several test runs before conducting the first virtual meeting to work out any flaws.g