A road map for next mayor

At the "Vision For Charleston" program held at the Francis Marion Hotel Monday several speakers representing several groups spoke on what the priorities should be for the next mayor of Charleston. (Brad Nettles/Staff)

If the message hasn’t come across with hundreds of people opposing a dense development on the Broad Street site of the Sergeant Jasper apartment building, Monday’s mayoral forum should have done the trick.

The message is that residents of Charleston aren’t looking for the kind of visionary projects that Mayor Joe Riley has been able to implement as mayor — the Waterfront Park, baseball stadium, S.C. Aquarium and new Gaillard auditorium.

As fine as those projects are, residents are interested in taking care of what’s here: focusing on the suburbs (both James Island and West Ashley), infrastructure, livability, public safety, public transportation and affordable housing.

As Historic Charleston Foundation chief preservation officer Winslow Hastie said, the next mayor will inherit “an incredible slew of great plans.” They just need to be followed.

Certainly the tourism management plan in its revised form is one of the road maps for the new mayor to follow —along with the city’s comprehensive plan and its zoning restrictions.

About 150 people attended the forum at the Francis Marion Hotel, not to hear what mayoral candidates have in mind for Charleston but to give those candidates some ideas about what’s important to residents.

And while it’s always a good idea for a mayor to recognize and pursue special opportunities, it’s also always good to take care of business at hand.

Some of the ideas are presented on a Website called “If You Were Mayor,” set up by architect Whitney Powers, one of the forces behind the forum. A reasonable voice is that of West Ashley resident Charlie Smith, who says his area needs the same attention to attractions and livability that the peninsula tends to get. Specifically, he calls for concentrating on appropriate zoning, burnishing the community’s image, igniting stalled neighborhood revitalization efforts, affordable housing, public transportation and the improvement of interconnectivity among public parks, bike paths and the Greenway.

The possible redevelopment of the Citadel Mall site should be conceived of with input from West Ashley residents, and the planned beautification of some of the main highways can’t happen too soon.

James Island resident Amy Fabri wants to see better cooperation among Charleston, Charleston County and the town of James Island to ensure that controversial plans — like an apartment complex on Maybank Highway — suit the people who live and work in the area, regardless of the specific jurisdiction.

Growth for growth’s sake isn’t the answer.

Michelle Mapp of the S.C. Community Loan Fund wants the next mayor to help provide affordable housing in Charleston. It certainly is needed — especially on the peninsula, where even rent is out of reach for many people.

The Loan Fund was one of the forum’s sponsoring organizations, along with the Coastal Conservation League, Historic Charleston Foundation and Charleston Moves. Businessman John Winthrop also was a sponsor.

Anticipation regarding the mayoral race (seven people are already campaigning and more are expected to file by the August deadline) is intense. Mayor Riley has been in office for more than 39 years, and is recognized as one of the nation’s pre-eminent mayors. That puts extra pressure on his successor.

But if people throughout Charleston let the candidates know what projects are important to them, the next mayor will have a helpful blueprint from the start.