Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

The newest members of Charleston County Council knew going into 2021 that the county’s top priority must be affordable housing. Now, more than a year later, one piece of that commitment has a chance of becoming a reality.

Under a proposal backed by a majority of members of county council last week, a deed restriction would be placed on 6.5 acres of public land at 995 Morrison Drive requiring “attainable and workforce housing” be built on the property. Details are still up in the air, but it looks like a step in the right direction.

For too many years, members of Charleston County Council squandered their responsibilities by allowing millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars to be frittered away on pet projects that benefited county insiders more than residents.

The old naval hospital. The long-delayed recycling center. Former Council Chairman Elliott Summey’s hiring at the airport. Former attorney Joe Dawson’s sweetheart departure deal. The list goes on …

Trust in county leaders was so low, in fact, that residents voted “No” on a 2020 referendum that would have given the county millions to supercharge affordable housing development.

On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after he was elected, new County Councilman Rob Wehrman didn’t mince words.

“Despite the failure of the referendum on affordable housing, I think the county’s got to find some way of still addressing that issue,” he told the City Paper.

Another council newcomer, Kylon Middleton, called the proposal for Morrison Drive “quite visionary and forward-thinking.”

Growing up a stone’s throw away in the East Side neighborhood, Middleton said the city is changing in ways that require dramatic action, particularly for Black and minority residents.

“On that side of town, where I grew up, we cannot find individuals anymore … that look like me,” he said during a Dec. 2 meeting. “There is no more land that God is making. And we own that. And we have the right to develop it.”

Conservatives would like to let the real estate market have its way with the property at 995 Morrison Drive — the same market that got us into this mess. As an appraiser, Councilman Herb Sass knows how the market works to enrich developers. As a construction litigator, so does Councilwoman Jenny Honeycutt. As does council’s resident commercial banker, Brantley Moody.

Middleton is right: This is a unique opportunity that the county should not pass up. Honeycutt and Councilman Dickie Schweers waded in against the proposal by invoking the specters of the naval hospital boondoggle and the county’s poorly managed Joseph Floyd Manor tower for low-income seniors. But if members of council have so little confidence in their own abilities to manage the county’s affairs, they should step aside.

As Wehrman told his colleagues during the meeting, the details of the proposal still need to be ironed out. What does attainable and affordable mean? What are the other options?

It’s county leaders’ jobs to ask those questions and act accordingly.

Letting the out-of-control real estate market loose at 995 Morrison Drive would be another screw-up by county leaders.

All members should heed Wehrman’s guidance in support of the proposal: “We’re not going to give up on working folks living on the peninsula.”