CP file photo

Several elected officials from the Lowcountry’s three largest cities say 2023 begins with several pressing issues at the top of the list.

Among the most urgent are wastewater management, dealing with flooding and infrastructure, upgrading mobility, managing tourism, creating affordable housing and preserving natural resources, they said in interviews with the Charleston City Paper.

“People here who were born and raised here, they cannot afford to stay in the city of Charleston,” said longtime Charleston city councilman Robert Mitchell.  “And that’s one thing that we need to look at very seriously.”

City of Charleston:
Minimizing barriers to living on the peninsula

Mitchell said dealing with affordable housing is at the top of his list, because prices and availability make it nearly impossible for families and individuals to rent on the peninsula. People who must commute downtown to work are also exacerbating the already rampant traffic congestion, he said. 

Mitchell

He added creating affordable housing is a monumental task for local governments considering land prices have gone up significantly. 

“We need to find a mechanism,” he added. To him, that means working closely with the state government to create solutions to lower the costs of building and implementing affordable housing. 

Charleston city council member Mike Seekings said he thinks it’s time the city reworks its economic model to create attainable housing so that Charleston is no longer a place where people who work in the city can’t afford to live in it. As chairman of the CARTA bus network, Seekings said improving mobility for residents by updating the current transit system and upgrading buses is something to focus on as the new year unfolds.

Mitchell also said the city of Charleston needs to work closely with the state government to allocate money for flooding mitigation.

“We need to have more money to be able to deal with the flooding — the city just can’t do it alone,” Mitchell said.

Seekings added a practical solution to storm surge is a top priority as the city approaches flooding management in 2023. He said it’s important to keep current water management projects moving smoothly, such as the year-end completion of the South Battery seawall.

Seekings

“We also need to be prepared to begin construction of the Calhoun West drainage basin project, which focuses on the western side of the peninsula for water management,” Seekings said. “It’s a project that we’ve been talking about for a long time, we’ve got to get it moving.”

The government must take a “Charleston-first” approach to all matters of policy as it approaches post-pandemic life and the growth of tourism, Seekings said. 

“We need to begin the process of rethinking tourism management and look at it from the lens of residents: from inside-out instead of from outside-in,” he said. “We have a population of 150,000 people in the city and only about 25,000 on the peninsula. We get 8 million-plus visitors a year. When it comes to tourism management, all policies that we enact and pursue have got to be from the lens of the eye of residents.” 

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said he is optimistic about the city of Charleston’s progress with drainage projects in West Ashley, the islands and the peninsula. He added he was pleased with thousands of affordable housing units under construction or in the pipeline as well as new parks and traffic improvements threaded from downtown through to Johns and Daniel islands. 

“In 2023, we intend to stay focused on the critical quality-of-life issues that are most important to our citizens: fixing flooding, fighting crime, building affordable housing and protecting neighborhood livability,” the mayor said. 

Parker

Charleston city council member Caroline Parker, who lives on James island, said she will continue to focus in 2023 on the issues most important to her constituents, including upgrading facilities like the James Island Recreation Center and core government services. 

“I will continue to vote to improve public safety, trash pickup, culvert and ditch maintenance, and traffic safety,” Parker said. 

Other 2023 priorities for Parker include larger-scale infrastructure improvements in relation to street maintenance, flooding issues and water quality standards. 

“James Island is a complex, multi-jurisdictional district — my goal in the new year is to continue working together with all involved government agencies to streamline the red tape and deliver results, not pass it down the line.”

She said her district has confirmed that cleaning up the creeks and rivers and protecting the island’s beauty is a top priority, which is why she will continue to advocate for oyster shell recycling and natural resource restoration projects. 

Town of Mount Pleasant:
Striking a balance

Haynie

Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie said in addition to creating an affordable housing strategy, it’s necessary for the town’s council to refine other legislation that affects quality of life, such as short-term rental and sound ordinances. 

Haynie said when Mount Pleasant Town Council members complete the second reading of the town’s noise ordinance, the motive will be to “strike a balance between quiet enjoyment for residents and outdoor music and entertainment at popular venues.” 

“We will also find space for an arts incubator as approved unanimously by the town council in 2022,” Haynie said. 

He highlighted other topics such as financing and implementing the details of the property tax increase referendum passed by voters last November to fund a new park and establishing a citizens commission to address flood resilience, green space and environmental stewardship.

City of North Charleston:
Reducing gun violence and addressing growth

North Charleston city council member Ron Brinson said nearly all of North Charleston’s problems are regional. 

Brinson

“Acting regionally is not something we do well,” Brinson told the City Paper. “I applaud the [Charleston] Metro Chamber of Commerce for its efforts to meld regional approaches. We should be hopeful that all locally elected officials will sooner rather than later embrace the realities of regional governance.”  

Brinson said gun violence is the most immediate challenge for North Charleston. 

“North Charleston is trying new ways to address this deadly crime pattern,” Brinson said. “A real time monitoring system is being installed, featuring state-of-the-art camera surveillance of major roadways, and attention to crime prone areas. We are also giving grants to 12 nonprofits to work with the police force on neighborhood policing.”

Jamison

North Charleston city councilmember Virginia Jamison added, “As we go into the new year, we have got to do something with the gun control law. We need to make it more difficult for a person to walk into a store off the street and buy a gun.”

Brinson said that the twin challenge of addressing the lack of affordable housing and the growing homeless population is another top priority. Additionally, diminished public school capacities and gridlock traffic patterns demonstrate the city’s need to get a handle on its growth. 

“We’ve got to look at growth and development,” Jamison said. “If you grow the tri-county area with every possible business, and you do not enhance the infrastructure — meaning traffic, schools and daily livability — then you have done a disservice to the masses.”

Charleston County: 
Transparency and accountability

Charleston County’s elected officials didn’t respond with detail about the county’s major plans in 2023. A new chair, however, is expected to be selected this week following the 2022 election of a Republican majority.

Longtime council member Herb Sass of Mount Pleasant, a leading candidate for chair, said Charleston County must continue to provide core services.

“We must be transparent and accountable,” he said. “Our core service of public safety must be properly performed [and] financial planning that does not raise taxes yet can provide services with experience and competence.”


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