A healthy city is anything but stagnant. Warehouses that made sense on East Bay Street 50 years ago don’t make much sense now that it has become a popular restaurant and entertainment district.
One responsibility of a city government is to be alert to changes in population, living patterns and property uses, and to manage them. One way to accomplish that is by appropriate zoning changes.
A misguided ordinance being presented to Charleston City Council Tuesday would discourage good rezoning or deplete the city’s coffers. Neither is an acceptable option.
The ordinance would pay people who own property that is down-zoned whatever market value it might lose as a result of the down-zoning.
Mayor Joe Riley offers a number of reasons this is a bad idea. Very bad.
It would limit the ability of citizens whose neighborhoods have changed to get them rezoned to facilitate suitable development and to discourage development that would be incompatible.
As an example, he points to the Lake Frances development on James Island. Several years ago, residents were unhappy that a tract of land was zoned to allow apartment complexes in the middle of a single-family developing neighborhood.
Council rezoned it, and the city got sued. The state Supreme Court upheld the rezoning. Mr. Riley says the area was developed in a way consistent with the neighborhood, and residents are pleased.
He also points out that state law requires cities to adopt comprehensive plans and update them every 10 years. That’s because things change, and city planning should be responsive.
Evan Thompson, director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, says the ordinance, submitted by Councilman Aubrey Alexander, assumes that the zoning now in place is perfect and will never need an adjustment.
“It’s absurd,” he tells us.
It also ignores the fact that changes that initially appear to devalue property often eventually increase their value.
Further, the mayor says the ordinance is unnecessary because current law protects uses in existence at the time of a rezoning.
This ordinance suggests that rezonings are paramount to takings.
The idea behind the ordinance might resonate with property rights hard-liners, but it fails to acknowledge the value of a community’s well-being and the responsibility of a city to protect it.
City Council should demonstrate to its constituents that it has their best interests at heart and vote a resounding “no” on the ordinance.
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