Council talks of plans to liven city

SUMMERVILLE — A trolley bus scuttles along Trolley Road taking Oakbrook residents to the historic downtown business district and bringing downtown residents to a walkable "little town" surrounding the medical center. That's what Councilman Bob Jackson has in mind.

And that idea, as much as anything, might be why Summerville's embattled comprehensive plan gets one more round in the ring later this month. Town Council voted Wednesday to create a committee of council members and two Planning Commission members to study whether the language of "shoulds" in it needs to be changed to better direct changes in how development is managed.

But the conversation before the vote centered on Jackson's presentation of why the plan should make a priority of revitalizing the suburban Oakbrook community near Dorchester Road. Jackson gave council members a list of reasons that included the trolley as possibility.

The plan is a 10-year update of the town's blueprint for growth. It prioritizes council actions and guides future planning and zoning votes. On the brink of a final vote to approve it as written earlier this month, council decided to hold a second special meeting to review the language and revitalization concerns. Council members are divided on whether the language is needed or the revitalization workable.

The revitalization could be accomplished with a minimal town investment, Jackson said Wednesday. The idea is to encourage public-private partnerships with organizations such as the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority to make it happen. Oakbrook, he said, already has three large low-income apartment complexes, four senior citizens centers and a seven-story building for seniors. Few of those people travel on their own downtown, but most of them would like to.

"The seniors don't have a way to get out of Oakbrook. We could help the downtown merchants and (let them use) Azalea Park. None of these people have any town facilities except the (Jessen) boat landing, which they don't use," he said.

Jackson also wants to turn the intersection of Trolley and Midland Park roads, where Summerville Medical Center is located, into a pedestrian-friendly hub of residences and businesses. A lot of those pieces are already in place, he said.

"With the medical center expanding and the potential of (nearby development tract) Pine Trace, this is a wonderful opportunity," he said.

The opportunity is enough that Councilman Aaron Brown, who pushed to pass the plan as written, is not only open to taking another look but also will sit on the committee with Councilman Mike Dawson, who pushed for stronger language.

"I think we all did our job to get to this point," Brown said of the plan as written. "On reflection, I think (the committee) is a good way to deal with these issues. I'm not sure I'm going to change my mind. But if people have ideas that could help the town, we should look at them. This way, before we bake the cake, everybody has a chance to put their ingredients in it."