HICKS COLUMN: Johns Island strikes back?
So Johns Island finally got a say about one of the plans to build something big out there.
And the island said “No.”
Last week, the St. Johns Fire District Commission turned down the Beach Co.'s request for a special tax district to build Kiawah River Plantation, a subdivision of 1,200 high-priced homes and a hotel near Mullet Hall.
Basically, if the fire district would forgo taxes on the development for 20 years, which would help fund its infrastructure, the developer would give it $800,000 to buy a new ladder truck and land to build a new station.
Barry Hart, the commission's chairman, said the last ladder truck it bought cost more than $800,000, and it would cost $1 million a year to staff the truck. And they didn't need to build a new fire station two miles away from one they already have.
“It wasn't a good business deal for the taxpayers,” Hart said.
Islanders were ecstatic to have an official government entity give them a voice.
In fact, they liked it so much that now they want more.
Time for a town?
Johns Island feels like it's under siege.
Developers want to throw up thousands of homes, Kiawah wants to build a parkway across it and the county and state want to run 526 onto it.
And residents feel powerless to stop any of it. Not a single state lawmaker, city or county councilman lives on the island, which doesn't help.
After someone bragged erroneously that the fire district was OK with the Kiawah River Plantation plan, islanders called their fire commissioners. It worked so well that they are now quietly talking about forming their own town, just like James Island did.
“The only chance we have for our future is to be our own voice,” says Thomas Legare, who some folks affectionately call the mayor of Johns Island.
Bottom line: Here we go again.
Only so much
It had to come to this.
Johns Island is the closest, biggest undeveloped swath of land to downtown Charleston. Of course people want to make a buck off it.
And truth is, Johns Island isn't as rural as it used to be, and it never will be. The cow is out of the barn. But these folks would like to slow it down.
It's unclear if the law that cleared the way for James Island would work here. Johns Island doesn't have the tax base to support much of a town, and there certainly will be opposition from Charleston and the county.
Nor would a town fix all of this. Charleston has annexed so much of the island that it would be hard for a town of Johns Island to nix 526 with municipal consent.
But a town could stop the parkway and a few monster developments. And that's something.
People in general, and South Carolina particularly, don't like to feel as though they have no say in things that affect them.
Maybe they can't do this, but Johns Islanders are going to try. It's hard to blame them. You can only dump so much on people before they try to find a way to fight it.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.