A look ahead at the Lowcountry in 2013
As a new year dawns on the Lowcountry, residents have a lot to look forward to. From schools to roads to neighborhoods, the area is growing and improving. Here are some highlights of what to look for in 2013:
LOWCOUNTRY TECH: One of the most controversial local education issues during the past five years has been how the former Rivers Middle School building should be used. Renovations to the downtown building will be finished this month, and the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science and a new program, Lowcountry Tech, will share the space. The community will be paying close attention to the already controversial space-sharing arrangement.
MAJOR FEDERAL GRANTS: Charleston County School District landed two multi-million-dollar federal grants — Race to the Top and the Teacher Incentive Fund — in late 2012, and has started working to implement both. Race to the Top funds will be used to personalize students’ learning, and the Teacher Incentive Fund money will go toward recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers as well as developing a performance-based compensation system for educators.
NEW SCHOOLS: Berkeley and Dorchester counties are both on the cusp of kicking off major building and renovation programs, after voters in both districts approved referendums in November. Over the next several years, Berkeley County School Board will spend $198 million to build five new schools and renovate 29 others, while Dorchester District 2’s program will build four new schools and renovate 10 others to the tune of $179.9 million. Groundbreaking for new schools will take place in 2013, and several large renovation projects will also get under way.
ETHICS REFORM: Several groups have been holding meetings in recent weeks, taking testimony and floating ideas for ethics reform. But will the talk lead to any action after a year of high-profile ethics controversies? The Legislature will decide which reforms make it through.
GAS TAX: Some law-makers and an outside group will push for an increase in the state’s 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax to fund infrastructure needs. But an increase in the tax, third-lowest in the country, is likely to meet opposition in the Legislature. Gov. Nikki Haley also opposes a gas tax jump.
MEDICAID EXPANSION: Expect fierce efforts by Democrats and groups supporting an expansion of the state-federal program for the poor under the Affordable Care Act. The Haley administration opposes the expansion, saying the state can’t afford it over the long term. The coming fight could carry similarities to the last time the state had to decide whether to accept a huge sum of federal money. In 2009, former GOP Gov. Mark Sanford unsuccessfully sought to reject $700 million in federal stimulus funding.
ELECTIONS: The main elections this year will include the Mount Pleasant mayoral race where incumbent Billy Swails will seek a second term, plus several Mount Pleasant and city of Charleston council elections.
TRANSPORTATION: The city of North Charleston will come to terms with its new rail agreement with the state regarding the new port and the former Navy base, while the city of Charleston continues work on rededicating a lane of the northbound Ashley River drawbridge for bicyclists and pedestrians.
DEVELOPMENT: Proposed apartment complexes on James and Johns island could continue to make news, while North Charleston is expected to see a makeover of the former Naval hospital and the old Shipwatch Square shopping center directly across Rivers Avenue.
CASINOS: Simulated gambling has arrived in North Charleston, while the city of Charleston is working on its zoning laws to allow it there. Also, North Charleston could welcome a new casino boat, if an operator can make the numbers work.
BEARLY THERE: Maybe the most unexpected thing that could very well happen in Dorchester County in 2013 is a black bear or cinnamon bear wandering into a suburban neighborhood. More than 800 of the bears now inhabit the coastal counties, including Dorchester, and they are being found near populated areas.
WIDER ROADS: Glints of good news are coming for beleaguered Oakbrook area commuters. The Dorchester Road widening, $22 million worth of work, is expected to be completed by November and widening the six-mile stretch of Bacons Bridge Road could be done by the end of the year.
TOWN COUNCIL: Summerville holds its first November election for council.
POWER SHIFT: The balance of power on Berkeley County Council is expected to shift this month, as District 3 Councilman Bob Call steps down from office after being defeated in the election last year by newcomer Ken Gunn. In the past, many votes on council have been split 4-4, with Call and Councilmen Jack Schurlknight, Caldwell Pinckney and Steve Davis voting against Councilmen Tim Callanan, Cathy Davis, Phillip Farley and Dennis Fish. County Supervisor Dan Davis then casts the deciding vote, often voting with Call’s group. Gunn is expected to side most often with the Callanan four, giving them the majority.
GROWTH BOOM: Growth is expected to take off in Berkeley County in 2013, with both housing and industry booming. Neighborhoods that have been on hold during the economic downturn are again picking up speed as the housing market improves.
NO SMOKING: Goose Creek is expected to give final approval to a smoking ban in January, making it against the law to smoke in public places and places of employment within city limits, but allowing smoking on porches and decks more than 10 feet from a building’s entrance and on the city-owned Crowfield Golf & Country Club course.
DRAINAGE: Continued work on drainage improvements for the Septima Clark Parkway in Charleston.
BRIDGES: Construction of new bridges connecting Folly Road to Folly Beach.
WIDENING: In Berkeley County, widening of U.S. Highway 17A from Cypress Gardens Road to Perry Hill Road to five lanes with sidewalks.
I-526 WORK: Completion of a new interchange and bridge at Interstate 526 and Hungryneck Boulevard in Mount Pleasant.
FINE DINING: Charleston’s food and beverage scene continues to thrive uptown. More and more restaurants are finding new digs on the upper peninsula, along King and Spring streets and elsewhere, and are bringing innovative concepts to the table. Among the new residents are Xiao Bao Biscuit, The Ordinary, Bon Banh Mi, Rutledge Cab Company, The Alley and Stars.
RETURN OF MUSIC: The Charleston Symphony Orchestra is back. After a near-collapse in 2010, its revamped programming and reorganized administration is luring more people than ever to concerts. Many of those patrons are new. Could this be the start of a trend? Is classical music getting ... popular?
RETURN OF MUSIC II: The Charleston Jazz Orchestra completed its fifth consecutive year of blasting the roof off the Music Hall. Each year, more and more fans have discovered this local treasure, which celebrates the jazz heritage of South Carolina while simultaneously reaching far and wide.
Diette Courrege Casey, Teresa Taylor, Stephen Largen, Prentiss Findlay, Bo Petersen and Adam Parker contributed to this report.