About 20 years ago, when North Charleston began adjusting reluctantly to the reality that the southern end of the former Charleston Naval Base would become a new container terminal, the city approved a plan that would balance the emerging port presence there with the desire of nearby neighborhoods to remain protected from industrial sprawl. Specifically, city planners noted that industrial uses should be welcomed on the east side of Spruill Avenue, while the future of the street's west side should be more mixed use in nature.
City Council has an important opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to follow through on that long-term plan when it votes Tuesday on final approval of rezoning 10 lots on or near Spruill from industrial to general business.
Mayor Keith Summey said the city's long-range goal has been to help attract different kinds of businesses to the nearby neighborhoods of Union Heights and Chicora Cherokee, according to The Post and Courier's Rickey Ciapha Dennis Jr. Using Spruill as a sort of zoning boundary between port uses and quieter neighborhood uses would help protect the residential qualify of life in a gradually evolving part of the city. "We did not want to end up with industrial zoning in between two neighborhoods," Mayor Summey said.
Some owners of these 10 properties oppose the change, but there's another point for City Council to keep in mind beyond the city's long-term plan. The zoning change won't disrupt current industrial operations on those properties; it only would limit any expansion of them. There's a big difference between rezoning a property and using a more controversial process known as amortization, which aims to phase out certain preexisting enterprises. Amortization is not what's happening here.
What's perhaps most concerning is the memory lapse inside North Charleston's collective planning brain when it came to this matter. When the issue first came before the city's Planning Commission on Oct. 10, no one educated the commissioners on the history here, a history that began long before work did on the new Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal. Instead, commissioners heard mostly from property owners interested in maintaining their storage, warehousing and truck repair operations. That's likely why the Planning Commission recommended against the rezoning.
We typically expect and often urge city councils to follow the counsel of their respective planning commissions, but we make an exception in this case for all the reasons listed above.
Spruill Avenue is an important north-south corridor that runs just east of and parallel to Rivers Avenue for about three miles, ending at East Montague Avenue near Park Circle. Spruill has a checkered past as a scene of much of the vice one can expect wherever there are thousands of sailors stationed nearby, but in the generation after the base closed down, the city has worked to reposition the thoroughfare as a more vibrant, mixed-use corridor.
The city has taken ambitious steps along these lines, including putting the street on a road diet years ago — making it far more attractive to cyclists without causing any significant traffic delays — and acquiring a more northern section from the state in order to allow for additional on-street parking to support emerging restaurants and businesses.
The current rezoning effort makes clear the city's vision for a more dynamic urban boulevard as the avenue runs south toward North Charleston's southern city limit. It made sense when the city first came up with the plan 15 years ago, and it still makes sense today.