We sent questionnaires to the candidates for Charleston City Council who would represent Johns Island and asked them to respond to each question in roughly a paragraph or so.
Each candidate received the same questions and submitted answers, which we have listed here in entirety and without edits. We are listing responses below in alphabetical order by candidate last name.
Candidates for Charleston City Council District 5:
Thank you to all of the candidates who took the time to respond! To find out more about the upcoming election, please check out our election write up.
1. What should be done to address infrastructure needs and development on Johns Island?
With the recent closings of Maybank Highway due to traffic accidents and the impacts of traffic on the city, it is clear that we have to address the traffic needs on Johns Island. Our colleagues at the county and the state generally control the purse-strings on road projects, but City Council and the Mayor’s Office can use their bully pulpit to advocate for the projects that would have the most impact. We have to look at the northern and southern pitchfork for Maybank and River Road as well as the flyover of Highway 17 and Main Road. This will help relieve some of the traffic bottlenecks in the area. I know opinions on I-526 are mixed, but with it moving into its initial permitting phases now, we need to have a unified voice on how we want I-526 to traverse the island so that our input is able to be taken into account.
On flooding, I think we have to really take a hard look at the zoning that we are allowing on Johns Island and how the zoning plays into the flooding issues on the island. In addition, we have to develop a plan on how best to implement the Dutch Dialogues recommendations. There are many good ideas from these that revolve around stormwater storage and then eventual pumping. It will be costly, but we have to better about living with water.
Infrastructure is way behind. I have been saying to Council, the Mayor and County reps for the past 4 years that it is “Infrastructure First” on Johns Island. We have been promised for at least 10 years and in the Johns Island Plan (2008) that there would be a “Pitchfork” - one fork to the south and one fork to the north. We have the one towards Main Rd and Brownswood Rd. area in the works. The fork toward the Airport is currently dead. The 526 argument is now in the courts for decision. I-526, for the past 40 years, was a topic of discussion as it provided 2 addition egress bridges to leave the Island. Had we had the pitchfork or even one of the pitchfork tines away from Maybank and River Road intersection Sept 30th, at least part of the 9-hour problem could have been mitigated. We now have the Dutch Dialog report on flooding and recommendations on future building. This comprehensive report cannot be ignored and will help in future building decisions. Control over the Planning Department and unambiguous definitions in our ordinances are the start of the process to correct Infrastructure.
2. Please describe the role you believe the Urban Growth Boundary plays in development on Johns Island and what, if anything, should be done to preserve/enforce it.
The Urban Growth Boundary plays an important role in helping to preserve the rural character of Johns Island. However, the tradeoff for preserving the UGB is that we have to allow density where density makes sense in the city. We cannot stop migration into the area, so we have to look at where we can build up instead of building out. This approach will help ensure that we can preserve the UGB, and I think we can learn some lessons from other coastal areas that have a UGB, such as the City of Virginia Beach, which has a rural southend and a dense middle and upper portion of the city.
Urban Growth Boundary is exactly what is states, a boundary. It has been agreed upon by the city and the county and has been respected by each side for 15 or so years. Only one change has been made in my time on council. It was directed by the courts to correct a previous omission. The boundary is self-enforced and so far has been respected. So far it is akin to respecting your neighbor’s yard. It should be reinforced annually by both Councils. It is paramount to the success of keeping Johns Island rural. It was not done West Ashley over the years and now all our farms are asphalt.
3. Even though District 9 schools fall under the Charleston County School Board's purview, what can the City do to support equitable resources for children on Johns Island?
As someone who has taught in a high-poverty school, education is something that is near and dear to my heart. While you are correct that CCSD bears the overwhelming amount of responsibility directly for schools, city policy can play a role in making the playing field more equitable. The summer slide is real, and children who are from poorer families experience the summer slide more profoundly. The city can play a role in this by offering high-quality affordable summer programming through the Parks and Recreation Department, which will help with families who may otherwise not have availability to those resources.
As a City I see nothing that can be done legally to ensure the equitable distribution of school resources. We can ensure that things like recreation, facilities, and programs are equitable. Even a little bartering of these resources have proven to free up other assets across the CCSD line. These kids play together; live in close proximity; and attend churches together. The formalized part of the education from CCSD and the social education from the playgrounds and sports programs make the whole child. Resources are shared but just not formally. I do not know the amount per student in the CCSD budget so it is impossible to determine equity for any district.
4. What do you think is currently the biggest challenge facing Johns Island and how do you propose to address it?
I think there are a couple of issues that bubble to the top. Clearly, traffic is an ever increasing issue, and as I mentioned in a previous question, we need to take a look at the low-hanging fruit projects and how we can secure the support from our colleagues at the county and the state to get these projects on the docket sooner rather than later. Flooding is an ever-present problem on the island, so we need to have a look at the zoning that the city has on the island and how that may be improved as well as how best to implement the Dutch Dialogues recommendations. Lastly, I don’t think that Johns Island has been adequately represented on City Council, and I think many of the residents’ frustrations come out of the lack of communication and transparency that being inadequately represented exacerbates.
Overdevelopment is the catalyst that creates the other big issues. Lack of effective planning and zoning create overdevelopment. Why does Charleston need 28 different zoning categories?. I still have not heard a legitimate answer to that. As a result, infrastructure gets overburdened. They squeeze every inch of dirt possible to build one more unit and bring more traffic but no new roads, sewer, electricity or water. Encroachment on lower land brings fill. Fill brings flooding. I am going to pursue the streamlining of the zoning categories and make them more uniform throughout the city. The planning ordinances will be revisited and updated. This should “stop the bleeding”. Concurrently we need to find the money to strengthen the roads and bridges. Bus routes need to be re-visited. We are limited by geography on the simplistic answers. It is going to take everyone working together to fix the issues. I will continue to follow a simple formula for decisions. I will always try to “do the right thing” based on the facts as I know them.