Officials stumped by James Island stance

As the town of James Island prepares to go to court to attempt to block Charleston County's $18 million plan for Harbor View Road, city and county council members who live in neighborhoods along Harbor View said they are perplexed by the town's position.

"From what I have heard, the predominant amount of people want improvements and want to see this project go forward," said County Councilman Paul Thurmond. "You hate to waste money on litigation, but that seems to be the route it's going."

City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson said the road project is very much needed, and that opposition is being driven by "the same 100 people who hate the city so vigorously."

There is plenty of bad blood between the city, the town, and the county.

Charleston convinced the courts to reverse two previous incorporations of the town, and when the town reincorporated in 2006, county officials decided the town would have to pay for some county services that had previously been provided at no additional cost.

James Island Mayor Mary Clark said there is widespread opposition among town residents to the Harbor View Road project, but she and other town officials are quick to mention the wrongs they believe the city and county have perpetrated against them.

"Now is the time to make a stand against the county," town Councilman Bill Wilder said last week, as the council voted 4-1 to pursue an injunction to halt the project.

The real issue, Clark said Wednesday, "is about somebody, the county, taking charge of the town of James Island and telling us we have to pay through the nose for services."

In the middle of all the enmity sits the county's plan to widen Harbor View Road from James Island Creek to Fort Johnson Road, add a center turn lane from North Shore Drive to Mikell Drive, and line the road with a wide sidewalk and a bike path.

In some places, additional lanes would be added for turns onto connecting streets.

"The town's main concern is that we don't believe it is really an improvement, and it is a lot of money," said Clark. "There are so many traffic issues on James Island that could be addressed for $18 million."

The town has consistently supported adding a center turn lane to portions of Harbor View Road, but Clark said the wide sidewalks and bike paths and other aspects of the county's plan go too far.

"I think the sticking point is that they are going to do what they want to do no matter what we say," she said Wednesday.

Thurmond and Wilson said their neighbors and constituents want to see the road project go forward.

A center turn lane, they said, would relieve the back-ups caused when drivers must stop and wait for a break in traffic before turning into a subdivision.

"I heard from a couple of city constituents who are, quite honestly, fed up with the town and their ability to muck up this process," Wilson said.

"There is nothing we can do," she said. "I think the more we support the county's position, the angrier we will make Mary Clark and her comrades."

Town attorney Trent Kernodle said the law will be on the town's side when he goes to seek an injunction. He said the town's approval is needed for the road project.

"I believe there is some plan out there that the town would like," Kernodle said. "This isn't it."

Part of James Island is within the town limits, the rest is within the city of Charleston, and both the town and the city are in Charleston County. The city supports the Harbor View Road plan and the county is moving ahead with work to acquire the needed right of way.

"It's kind of like being pregnant or not pregnant," said Thurmond. "You either have traffic improvements or you don't."