Hundreds of West Ashley residents turned out Monday to push for more shopping options, better schools and less traffic congestion.
The city-hosted event at West Ashley High School was the second public meeting of the West Ashley Economic Development Strategy. At the group's first meeting in October, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Tim Keane, the city's planning director, focused on plans for redeveloping the Citadel Mall to make it the center of the community. But Monday's meeting focused mostly on residents' needs, concerns and questions.
West Ashley has been taking a back seat financially to downtown Charleston for years, and it's time for the city to invest more tax dollars in neighborhoods off the peninsula, said Leanne Anderson, a resident of the Park Shore subdivision.
Anderson brought her 8-year-old daughter, Rowan, to the meeting to give her a real-life social studies lesson.
West Ashley was a desirable part of the city in the 1950s and 1960s, but many say it has become worn and dog-eared in recent years.
Anderson said she's disappointed she hasn't seen more improvements in West Ashley. "We have a lot of vacant shopping centers in need of revitalization."
Riley was among several panelists who addressed plans for the future of West Ashley. He said the city has many exciting things in the works for the area that will appeal to West Ashley residents, including:
More connected pedestrian and bike lanes and trails
A 16,000-square-foot senior center, which likely will open in 2016 on the Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital campus
New fire and police facilities
The new Higgins Pier, which will open soon on the Ashley River at the end of the West Ashley Bikeway
A small, passive park in the Maryville community
Panelists answered questions submitted in writing from the audience for more than half of the two-hour meeting.
Several people said they wanted more and better options for shopping, including a new Whole Foods and Trader Joe's store.
Perry Capers, who has been working at the In & Out Car Wash on St. Andrews Boulevard since it opened 54 years ago, said he hopes West Ashley development will be a boon to the business. But he's also a bit worried because, sometimes, development drives up prices and forces established businesses to move.
Tim Grainger, owner of the Timbo's Boiled Peanuts stand on S.C. Highway 61 also is concerned about his business. If the city or county build curbs along the highway without allowing a driveway into his business, many of his customers will be driven away, he said. "When you have to relocate these days, it's devastating. It's so expensive."
Questions also were asked about public schools in West Ashley, and whether there were any plans in the works to improve them. Now, schools in Mount Pleasant have a much better reputation than those in West Ashley, participants said.
Michael Bobby, the Charleston County School District's acting superintendent, said West Ashley schools already are improving. For instance, he said, West Ashley High School for the first time received an excellent rating on its state report card this year.
And more improvements are in the works.
A center for advanced studies will open on the West Ashley High campus in the next four years, and a new C.E. Williams Middle School also will be built on the campus.
Keane said the city and county also have some plans to help traffic move more smoothly.
The only major new road planned for the area is the extension of Interstate 526, he said. But city and county leaders are planning to make improvements to many of the area's larger intersections.
He also said city leaders are focusing on improving public transportation and designing communities where people can leave their cars at home, and instead walk or ride their bikes.
But there still will be traffic, he said. "If you live in a growing area, you have traffic problems. It's part of life in a place that's growing and healthy."