MOUNT PLEASANT — Town Council bought 43 acres on Shem Creek last year for $6 million with the idea of preserving public access to an area that is arguably East Cooper's centerpiece.
On Tuesday night, council reviewed a consultant's proposal for its creek property that included 32 private/charter boat slips and a sailing school. The rental boat slips and what could result from them raised a red flag for council member and Mayor Pro-Tem Kruger Smith.
"I don't want to see boats from one end to the other," Smith said. "I don't think any of us want to build a marina over there."
The consultant, Thomas & Hutton Engineering, developed the preliminary blueprint for the property after a series of "stakeholder" meetings with those having an interest in the future of the creek. They included business, government and recreational concerns.
What was unveiled in the presentation was generally well-received by council, but the private/charter boat slips also were a sticking point for Councilman Joe Bustos, who questioned where that concept had come from. He worried that rental slips would lead to overnight live-aboards and the resulting electricity, water and sewer hook-ups that entails.
"I don't know if we want to get in that business," Bustos said.
Parking was another red-flag issue for some council members. The 43-acre site includes less than an acre of high ground near Coleman Boulevard, a part of which could be used for parking. The rest of the small parcel would be for a "pocket park" leading to about 1,000 feet of marsh boardwalk and more than 1,000 feet of waterfront docks.
Currently, there are about 280 parking spaces in the immediate vicinity of where the park entrance would be located on the Vickery's side of the creek. However, those spaces would also be used by customers of the bars, restaurants and inns. The parking situation could be a real issue if people come out in droves to walk on the new docks, officials said. "We're going to create a controversy," Town Administrator Mac Burdette said. The town already is wrestling with the parking issue created by those who walk on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and park along Patriots Point Boulevard.
Burdette said $1 million has been set aside to begin construction of the park, starting in July 2010, but the park would have to be built in phases.
Council recently had discussions with the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission about a 50/50 partnership in the Shem Creek project. Those talks hit a snag when an appraiser hired by PRC valued the 43 acres at $3 million. PRC said that it wanted to look elsewhere for public land east of the Cooper. However, the town and PRC have an agreement for PRC to manage the 1,200-foot pier at the town's 14-acre Memorial Waterfront Park, scheduled to open Fourth of July weekend.
After Tuesday's council meeting, the consultant will tweak the Shem Creek plan to reflect concerns about parking and rental boat slips. A public hearing will be scheduled before council grants final approval to the plan.
The town had been seeking the Shem Creek property since 2005. In 2007, it voted to condemn the land owned by Mark Mason and Phillip Smith but subsequently reached an agreement to buy the property from them.
Mason and Smith had a plan for the property that included a 1,200-foot wooden trail through the marsh from condominiums that would be built where the former OK Tire property was located just off Coleman Boulevard. Some expressed concern about Mason and Smith's plan for the creek, which included a marina for 24 boats up to 50 feet long.