By Andy Owens
Published Feb. 11, 2016
Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page put a Save Shem Creek officer on the spot during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, questioning him regarding conflicting building heights for two projects near Patriots Point.
Former town councilman Jimmy Bagwell was among several speakers commenting on height restrictions after Bennett Hospitality, the developer of Bridgeside II, withdrew its request for building heights that are taller than zoning allows.
Eminent domain mentioned but not debated
Town Council chambers were packed with residents during the meeting, which came a few days after a special meeting in which council voted to research the costs involved in creating a new park — including appraising privately owned property on Shem Creek where a controversial office building and parking garage is under construction.
Council held the special meeting Friday to consider options for the third phase of Shem Creek Park, including the possible appraisal of 15 properties, 13 of which are privately owned.
Though eminent domain was not mentioned in Tuesday’s agenda or in the motion Friday, the topic came up frequently during public discussion. Many residents saw the move as the first step in using eminent domain to take the private property. Comments were both for and against the possibility.
The issue first came up in December, when council went into closed session with the stated purpose of getting legal advice about possibly using eminent domain to stop construction of the office building.
Town Council members remained silent on the issue during Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilman Paul Gawrych, who voted for the fact-finding measure on Friday along with Gary Santos, Joe Bustos, Jim Owens and Will Haynie, said many recent council meetings have been gridlocked because of members seeking information. Gawrych said that although council members might not like the answers to their questions about the costs, he was committed to a “very public, open and deliberate process.”
“You can have a vision but you can’t craft it until you know what you have on your hands,” Gawrych said.
“I believe they are looking at 120-plus feet. Do you have any comment on that project?” Page asked.
“I think that project is going to have to stand on its own,” Bagwell said, adding that the project was still under design and was farther from the Ravenel Bridge than Bridgeside II.
The moment foreshadowed a debate near the end of the meeting during which Town Council voted to send height restrictions in the town’s urban corridor back to the planning committee for reconsideration, along with consideration for regulating short-term rentals — specifically Airbnb-type rentals — and accessory dwelling units.
The item was proposed by Councilman Gary Santos, who wanted the planning committee to make a recommendation about further restricting the heights of future buildings, including renovations, to 45 feet in the Coleman Boulevard Overlay District, with a 40-foot height restriction on Chuck Dawley Boulevard.
“I would like for council to send it to the planning committee, so they can start discussions with the public about these issues, these two very important issues,” Santos said.
Councilman Paul Gawrych and Councilman Mark Smith voted against sending the issues to the committee. Smith said Town Council amended the town’s height restriction code late last year and he didn’t understand why it was being revisited. Buildings can be as high as 75 feet in two locations on Coleman Boulevard, but most properties are restricted to 55 feet or shorter.
“We just went through the entire process regarding heights, and we made some changes in October,” Smith said.
Smith also said existing laws address many of the concerns some have expressed about residents sharing their homes for a fee.
“We have regulations in place and ordinances and laws in place to protect our citizens’ safety, noise ordinances, parking requirements,” Smith said. “Those ordinances are in place. It’s just simply my opinion, what goes on inside people’s homes, it’s none of our business. It’s government overreach in my opinion.”
Santos said the town is missing out on tax revenue when people offer short-term rentals but do not pay accommodations taxes. He said he thinks it’s unfair that some businesses pay them but that others — which are operating as a business when they rent — do not.
Saying Smith frequently talks about the importance of supporting businesses, Santos added, “If he’s that much of a supporter of businesses in Mount Pleasant, why would you not want to make sure that everybody is on the same playing field? Why would you want to make sure that some businesses are held accountable and some aren’t?”
Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.