North Charleston is working on a deal with the developers of the Centre Pointe shopping area, where Tanger Outlets is located, to expand the complex by filling in 34 acres of wetlands along International Boulevard.
Mayor Keith Summey said the public would benefit because the deal calls for improvements to the water quality of Filbin Creek, and developer-provided land for a new city fire station, for a stadium for high school sports, and for a transit station and pedestrian walkway that the developer would build.
The wetlands are the key to the plan, because a federal permit would be required to fill them.
The 34 acres are on the Tanger Outlets side of International Boulevard, along both sides of Centre Pointe Drive, which is the main entrance to the massive retail and restaurant complex. The wetlands are part of 125 acres of wetlands that semi-circle around Centre Pointe.
The land is owned by Uptown Developers LLC, based in Washington D.C., according to Charleston County property records. Summey and other city officials said The Weiser Companies, the Centre Pointe developer headquartered in North Charleston, is the owner and developer.
The 125 acres of wetlands are currently listed in county records as "undevelopable" and they are taxed accordingly. The annual property taxes on the land amounted to $745 last year.
If the development plan were to move forward, the city, county and school district would gain property tax revenues eventually. But first, the city plans to create a tax increment financing district that would allow the newly-created tax money to be used to reimburse the developer for expenses such as new roads, sewer lines, and the Filbin Creek improvements.
The idea is that the city and the developer would jointly apply for an Army Corps of Engineers permit to fill the wetlands, offering a plan to improve polluted Filbin Creek as mitigation for the wetlands destruction. The creek's headwaters are near Centre Pointe, and it roughly follows the path of Interstate 526 to the Cooper River.
A $515,000 tax-funded effort to improve the water quality by creating artificial wetlands near the creek's headwaters in 2006 did not have the desired results, and Filbin Creek remains closed for recreation. It is on the national "impaired waterways" list. Stormwater runoff from Centre Pointe ends up in Filbin Creek, along with runoff from the highway.
Dana Beach, director of the Coastal Conservation League, said it's hard to see how destroying 34 acres of wetlands would improve the situation.
"You don't clean up an estuary or a creek by filling in 34 acres of wetlands and putting in sand filters," he said. "That's not a credible proposition on its face."
Beach said that if wetlands must be filled, the developers should follow the lead of Boeing Corp., which agreed to protect more than 3,600 acres of land in the Francis Marion National Forest as compensation for filling 154 acres of wetlands on its expansion property near the airport.
At a City Council meeting Thursday night, Summey said he's been frustrated when companies filling in wetlands in North Charleston have protected land outside the city as a mitigation effort.
He said in the proposed Centre Pointe deal, natural wetlands aren't at stake - the wetlands were created by an old mining operation, he said - and the benefits to Filbin Creek would be real.
The city wants to establish walking trails along portions of the creek, but for now the creek is mostly known for having unacceptably high levels of fecal coliform. In places, closer to its headwaters, the creek appears to be a drainage ditch, flowing through pipes and engineered ditches, before becoming more creek-like as it nears the Cooper River.
Ultimately, it would be up to federal regulators to decide if the proposed mitigation trade-off is acceptable.
A few City Council members questioned the plan Thursday night.
"Why would we want to take all that landscaping and have them destroy it?" Councilman Bob King said.
In the end, Summey got a unanimous vote recommending that he be authorized to ink the deal. A final council vote would first be needed.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552