Jan. 10 marked the first meeting of the new year for the Charleston City Council and the only issue of substance dealt with an ordinance that would allow short-term rentals in commercially zoned areas.
At its last meeting, all council members voted in favor of the ordinance with the exception of councilman Gary White Jr., who abstained.
He said at the time that he was favorably inclined to the ordinance but wanted to obtain the views of some of his constituents, particularly in Ansonborough.
There were some council members who expressed concerned about unintended consequence arising from the new ordinance.
Nobody could point to what those might be, but Mayor Joe Riley said he was amenable to making the ordinance “area specific,” if necessary. And at last night’s meeting, that’s effectively what the city council decided to do.
The catalyst to the change was probably the speech by the chairman of the Planning Commission, Frank McCann.
The Planning Commission had voted down the original ordinance and clearly McCann was not happy that the council had voted to proceed regardless. (Council needed a three-quarters-majority vote to override the commission and it achieved it at its last meeting.)
McCann spoke against the ordinance during the citizens’ participation portion of the meeting, stating that the ordinance “goes against the philosophy of the city – which is a place to live rather than a place to visit.”
He described the proposed ordinance as “corrosive.” He warned of garage apartments and the creation of party places. Council member Perry Waring, who was a member of the Planning Commission before his recent election to the council, spoke similarly. He thought the ordinance could destroy the fabric of the city.
While it appeared unlikely that any member of the city council changed their minds about the likely threat of destruction or corrosion of the city’s fabric, the view of the commission chair was something that likely carried weight.
Some have questioned why the council doesn’t make the ordinance area-specific? After all, the target was the Elliottborough/Cannonborough area – where there are many houses in need of renovation, and which is close to hospitals and the College of Charleston.
It was the friends and relatives of students and patients that need access to nearby short-term rentals.
Tim Keane, Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability for the city, was asked to revisit the ordinance and consider the creation of an overlay zone or making the ordinance specific in the Old City District area.
This may not be sufficient to fully placate the critics, but it should go most of the way.
Marc Knapp is a contractor specializing in heavy underground utilities and the owner of Charleston Site Utilities.