The most controversial item on North Charleston's City Council agenda was dealt with Thursday in a way that fell just short of being a back-room deal.
It was more like a back-room discussion.
As residents of the Lake Palmetto townhome development addressed the council, one after another, to oppose plans to rezone nearly 40 acres adjacent to their community for "heavy industrial" use, here's what happened.
Mayor Keith Summey and Reid Banks, owner of Banks Construction Company and the land at issue in the zoning case, suddenly headed into the conference room behind the City Council chambers along with Banks' lawyer, Jonathan Yates.
Their departure came as a lawyer hired by the Lake Palmetto homeowners was questioning why the construction company needed a zoning change that "would cause immediate reductions in property values and put a black cloud over that whole area."
As the crowd murmured about the mayor and the property owner going into the back room during the public discussion, council members peered over their shoulders to see what was up, and at least two councilmen headed for the conference room to see what was going on.
After about five minutes the mayor returned.
"We're going to sit down with the owner of the property (Banks) and their attorney and see if a different solution is possible," he told the audience.
Banks Construction and residents of Lake Palmetto have had issues in the past, because the large construction firm - which just about everyone points out was there first - creates noise and dust at all hours as it makes asphalt and breaks up cement and loads and unloads trucks.
The current issue is that Banks Construction and affiliated companies want their land rezoned for heavy industrial use, apparently to protect their use of the properties, which is currently allowed as a "grandfathered" situation. Residents of the adjacent Lake Palmetto community said they have no problem with Banks Construction and their ongoing operations, but oppose industrial zoning because it would lower their property values, and in the future could allow just about anything on the land if the construction firm were to leave.
"Hopefully, there is a way to accomplish the wishes of both sides," Summey said.
The mayor and the council member representing the area, Dot Williams, have already made it clear they would support the rezoning if there's no other solution acceptable to Banks Construction. They also both said the city plans to build a sound wall between the properties, saying it's the city's fault that Lake Palmetto was allowed to be developed.
Banks Construction is a large firm that's won multi-million-dollar public contracts in the area to build and resurface roads, such as Palmetto Commerce Parkway and the Isle of Palms Connector. The company is in the process of annexing a 4.5-acre property into the city of North Charleston, adding to the city's tax base.
Banks Construction's president and attorney said earlier this week that the company didn't need the "heavy industrial" zoning in order to continue current operations, and the company had no plan to change what it does at that location.
Summey said that if it appears a compromise is possible, at that point he'll invite the homeowners' lawyer to join in the discussion.
"We want to work with Mr. Banks and his company," Lake Palmetto resident Richard Brewer said. "We want them to succeed."
The issue comes up next at a City Council committee meeting Dec. 19.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552
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