The Charleston County School District has changed course on plans for a controversial school bus parking lot on James Island, and some residents aren’t happy about it.
This isn’t the first time the district has changed its direction for the bus lot. Finding a viable location to keep the 20 or so school buses that serve the island has been a process more than two years in the making.
Board members have previously considered and voted on multiple different places to house the buses, but have repeatedly faced zoning problems and community pushback.
“It’s been a whole ‘not in my backyard’ kind of thing,” said district spokesman Andy Pruitt.
In May, board members decided to go forward with a plan to place the lot on the campus of James Island Charter High School.
The lot will be built primarily on the existing practice soccer field and will take an estimated $3.8 million to complete, Pruitt said.
This decision came after the board voted in March 2018 to house the bus lot at James Island Elementary after months of meeting and community feedback sessions.
Residents were caught off guard when they learned about the change to put the lot at the high school, said James Island resident and town council member-elect Cynthia Mignano.
“For this to pop up, it was totally blindsiding to everybody, because as far as we knew the decision had been made,” Mignano said.
Some nearby residents weren’t aware of the changes until they saw a flier from the district circulating around their neighborhood informing residents of an upcoming “bus lot update” meeting scheduled Thursday at the high school.
“I just find it really sad that we went through all of this last year or the year before and went to all the public meetings and heard all the things, and the decision that we were told was that it was going to the lot behind James Island Elementary,” Mignano said.
“The way I perceived it, that was pretty much a done deal."
That’s why she and other residents were surprised to learn about Thursday’s meeting.
Pruitt said the district changed the lot’s location after the Charleston County Board of Zoning Appeals did not approve a land disturbance permit to build the bus lot at the elementary school.
He said the district did not have time to host any community input sessions because the contract for the bus lot project hadn’t been finalized yet.
“We had to wait until the contract was finalized before engaging the community,” he said.
Pruitt said the contract with James Island Charter High School was finalized last month.
Mignano said she was frustrated that the plan had changed without any community feedback.
“I find the lack of transparency disappointing, to say the least,” she said.
Mignano is concerned that the bus lot would be positioned close to homes in the Harbor Woods subdivision off Fort Johnson Road. Others worried about noise pollution and the lot’s potential negative impact on nearby property values.
Mignano said she’d heard from a school employee that the decision to place the new lot at the high school was in exchange for a new school gymnasium.
Pruitt said the new gymnasium is not connected to the bus lot.
“There is no trade,” Pruitt said. “It’s a separate project. It has nothing to do with this."
The school district is hosting a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in the high school cafeteria to provide an update to the public on the status of the bus lot construction project.