One of the most flooded communities in the Charleston region now has a dedicated funding stream for drainage solutions.
Charleston County and the city of Charleston recently created a tax-increment financing district in the Church Creek drainage basin, a roughly 5,000-acre area between Bees Ferry and Ashley River roads.
Also called a TIF district, the idea is to map out a specific area where development is anticipated so that a portion of new property tax revenue generated there could be collected to finance public amenities in that same area, such as new roads or drainage improvements. In the Church Creek district, the revenue will solely be used for drainage.
Starting in the late 1980s, the city unleashed a decades-long development spree of subdivisions, which included Shadowmoss, Hickory Farms and Grand Oaks. The neighborhoods weren't planned in a way that contemplated how flat and swampy the area is, so its drainage infrastructure has never been enough to handle the inevitable flooding that occurs in the basin.
The changing climate has only made matters worse for residents. The historic floods in 2015 and 2016 prompted the city to pause development there and commission an in-depth study of the basin's issues.
The consultant, Weston & Sampson, concluded that at least $44 million worth of drainage projects, including a major pump system and a tidal flood gate, are needed. It also recommended stricter stormwater and floodplain policies that builders should adhere to, which City Council adopted when it lifted the development moratorium in September.
The city proposed the new TIF district as a way to fund some of the expensive projects. Typically, the city asks the county and school district to participate, which means tax money that would go to schools and county purposes would be redirected to the city’s fund.
Only the county agreed to this new district, which primarily includes undeveloped, commercially zoned parcels. Commercial developments are taxed at a higher rate, so they tend to offer more revenue than new homes.
The district covers the West Ashley Circle, a number of parcels below Bees Ferry Road, and the 195-acre site of the future Village Green community that will be built as a part of the massive Long Savannah neighborhood.
The city expects it to generate more than $1 million in five years, and more than double that in 10 years. Once it starts bringing in money, the city can bond future revenue to get projects underway sooner.
The Coastal Conservation League supported the creation of the TIF, but wanted it to include more commercial properties.
The League's Betsy La Force said older strip malls on Ashley River Road were left out, but that they could generate more tax revenue if they're redeveloped.
However, Mayor John Tecklenburg said the district had already been approved by the county, and redrawing it would send the whole process back to city and county councils.
La Force said it would be worth the effort.
"It's a missed opportunity to not revisit the proposed boundaries," she said.
The Preservation Society of Charleston also voiced support for the new district, and encouraged the city to find similar creative funding strategies for drainage issues throughout the city.
"We’re encouraged by the effort to remedy the errors made in the Church Creek basin," advocacy director Leah Farrell said at a recent council meeting. "We of course know that there is not enough money to fix all of our past indiscretions, but surely we could be proactive and formalize policies citywide."