HICKS COLUMN: Common sense, voters, details help kill Kiawah River Plantation tax-increment finance plan
As it turns out, the votes were never really there for the Kiawah River Plantation.
But thanks to more than a little dysfunction on Charleston County Council, we've been through months of drama for nothing.
That wasn't really fair to the community — or the Beach Co., for that matter — but that's government inaction for you.
The controversial $81 million tax-increment finance district plan would have allowed the Beach Co. to build a high-end development in part with the future tax money it generated.
Rarely has such a high-profile project had so little support. Some people didn't like giving a private developer tax money, others didn't like the government picking winners and losers.
Some people just oppose any development on Johns Island.
Councilwoman Colleen Condon says she never heard one word of support for it — other than from Beach Co. employees.
Funny thing is, despite all that, until last night it looked very much like council was going to approve it.
Council members usually walk into these meetings knowing exactly what's going to happen. Not this time.
The TIF opponents weren't sure how Anna Johnson and Henry Darby would vote. The proponents were pushing hard for them to support a 45-day period to gauge the sentiment of the school board and other affected taxing entities.
And, frankly, to buy time.
Condon pointed out that county staff had already spent more than 1,000 hours working on this thing and, “If you already know you're not going to vote for it, it behooves us not to waste more staff time.”
That little bit of common sense — on top of overwhelming the public opposition — seemed to seal the deal.
And it probably won Condon re-election.
Not another 526
The TIF was killed unanimously, but some councilmen supported it.
They say the opponents didn't understand the deal and were unduly swayed by public opposition. Finally, the proponents threw up their hands.
In very colorful language.
But even they knew this was a bad road to go down. The county would have had developers lined up out the door looking for the same deal.
Ultimately, though, the details killed the TIF. Johnson says the deciding factor for her was that Mullet Hall neighbors wouldn't be able to tie into the TIF district sewer system. Good point.
Many of her colleagues, however, say that a vote for the TIF would have killed her chances of re-election — especially after her support of the 526 completion. Actually, the TIF fight was much like the 526 controversy — same opponents, same basic issue (the development of Johns Island) and the same County Council.
The difference here was that the TIF had no vocal community support and the opponents made reasoned arguments instead of just pleading for a rural Johns Island.
Fact is, the Beach Co. can still develop this land, and probably will. The Kiawah River Plantation isn't a bad plan — even the Coastal Conservation League signed off on an early version. The problem was simply using public money for a private project.
And a lot of voters helped County Council see the light.