Archive for June 2014

Healthy step toward shore power

Healthy step toward shore power
Jun 19 2014 12:01 am

The Legislature has spoken: Any cruise terminal built or designed in Charleston County during the 2014-2015 fiscal year must be capable of providing electrical shore power to the ships it serves.

The budget proviso, recommended by Reps. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, and Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, will be effective beginning July 1.

The action appears to settle, at least for now, an issue that has caused heated contention between the S.C. State Ports Authority and a coalition of environmentalists, preservationists, physicians and neighbors of the port in Charleston who want to minimize emissions produced when cruise ships idle at dock.

The SPA has contended that shore power is too expensive and has refused to commit to providing it for the proposed cruise terminal. Other options are available, port officials insist.

But scientific research shows that when cruise ships plug into an electric power source and turn off their diesel engines, emissions all but disappear. That’s good news for people living or working nearby, since those emissions are associated with heart and lung disease.

Both the Charleston County Medical Society and the S.C. Medical Association approved resolutions calling for shore power for that reason.

The proviso does not require cruise ships to plug into the power source, but that’s clearly the logical conclusion.

The S.C. House of Representatives initially recommended allocating $5 million for the SPA to use for shore power. During the budget-making process, funding was eliminated. Presumably the Legislature believes that the SPA is financially able to do the job on its own.

In any event, the mandate is clear: “The State Ports Authority shall include shore electrical power capability in the design and construction of any new terminal or facility servicing passenger cruise ships in Charleston County.”

In other ports where shore power has been installed, project costs have been shared by port authorities, local governments, cruise lines and power companies.

The mandate will also have to be considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when the SPA reapplies for permission to move forward with building a new terminal. The first permit was invalidated by a judge who said the SPA’s analysis of the project’s impact was insufficient.

Mr. Stavrinakis said he and Mr. Merrill tried to design a proviso that would be considered a win-win for all involved. With shore power, the SPA should gain advantages with customers who expect facilities to be up-to-date. And the community should enjoy the benefits of fewer emissions.

Mr. Stavrinakis said he is committed to keeping the proviso in the 2015-2016 budget, if needed.

Shoreside power has been gaining advocates, even as the SPA has resisted the proposal. This proviso indicates that the General Assembly also recognizes this is an idea whose time has come.

The City of Charleston embraces cruise ships, shuns new bars

Every municipal policy decision involves a value judgment. The judgments are not always between right and wrong and can often be subjective, particularly when it concerns the type of vices a city wants to eliminate or benefits it wants to attract.

Most reasonable people can agree that unchecked noise, pollution, or crowding in a limited urban space is a bad thing. However when noise, pollution, or crowds are financially beneficial to a city, difficult choices are often made. And those choices do not always reflect the wishes of residents or even the business community.

For instance, the City of Charleston made a choice when it decided that despite the crowds and pollution that cruise ships bring, the benefit of additional tourist dollars makes those negative side effects worth it. It didn’t matter that many residents feared Charleston would become the next Key West or experience increased traffic congestion. It didn’t matter that historic preservation organizations filed lawsuits against the cruise line or that they commissioned studies to show that the economic impact from cruise visitors were not as beneficial to local businesses as the city claimed. Despite the outcry, Mayor Riley and company decided that the benefits from the cruise ships were worth the traffic and the congestion, the complaints and the lawsuits. Charleston even went as far as to join with a cruise line in a lawsuit. That decision was the result of a value judgment.

Now there is another value judgment being made by the City of Charleston. In this case, Mayor Riley and his administration believe that the tax revenue from bars and restaurants is not worth the additional noise, congested streets, and pollution caused by patrons, particularly between the hours of 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. If the rationale for the new midnight closing ordinance is to be believed, we have reached a tipping point where the addition of new establishments would greatly damage the quality of life for some, but not all or even most, of the city’s residents. This judgment has been made despite the fact that capital investment for new bars, restaurants, and hotels in the so-called Entertainment Overlay District have skyrocketed, much to the city’s financial benefit.

Years ago, the City of Charleston had a vested interest in attracting new businesses to then-suffering Upper King Street and the Market area. Not too long ago, Upper King was not a safe place to wander after dark, and even further back, the Market area used to be described as seedy. But the city had a plan. Power lines were put underground. Businesses were asked to contribute to fancy bluestone sidewalks. Stores which were falling apart, like the old Condon’s Department Store, were transformed into apartments for college students and recent graduates. And slowly the tide began to turn. Today, both areas are bustling hubs of activity, day and night.

When the new luxury apartments along King and Meeting streets are able to successfully charge the high rents that they do, it is because of their proximity to Upper King and the bars and restaurants that call the area home. When bar owners invest hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating buildings on Upper King that just five years ago were deserted storefronts, it is because the City of Charleston succeeded in its efforts to attract business. Those investments worked because today Upper King and the Market are areas where young professionals, recent college grads, and tourists want to be. They spend money to eat, drink, and live where there is a vibrant nightlife. So how is it fair for those policy makers to arbitrarily draw a line in the sand and say that the crowds are now too much for the sidewalks to handle? Is there a study that we all somehow missed? And exactly how does the city square its opposition to new bars and its unwavering support for cruise ships and a new downtown cruise ship terminal despite the public outcry?

Charleston Tackles Tourist Managament Plan

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Click to view the footage from Live5 News

Mayor Joe Riley and other Charleston City officials heard from the public Thursday as the City tackles revising its tourism management plan for the first time in 16 years.

The tourism management plan was established in 1978 and last updated in 1998. City officials say they are working towards presenting a revision by the end of the year. Many say it’s long overdue.

“I feel more and more like we’re a revolving door for tourists,” says downtown resident Carrie Agnew.

Traffic on the peninsula, cruise ships and enforcement of existing tourism ordinances were among the key concerns at Thursday’s public forum.

Mayor Joe Riley says ordinances need to be updated to reflect the city and preserve quality of life.

“The first responsibility of a government and the first goal of a city have to be a good place for people to live first…a good place for people to work and then a good place for people to visit.”

Some residents say they appreciate that Charleston is a top vacation destination, but they fear livability has taken a back seat to tourism. Agnew, who has lived downtown for several years, says she plans around the cruise schedule.

“I know when a cruise ship is going to be here so that I can avoid certain areas. I know which streets are going to be hard to get down.”

Agnew, along with others, says they left feeling optimistic that change will come sooner than later.

“There needs to be a lot of involvement with people who are actually benefiting from tourism and are able and capable of handling most of the issues being brought up,” says business owner Walter Thorn.

City officials say the next step is for five task forces to talk and work through the suggestions they received from residents about two months ago.

Cruise ships, bars, bathrooms dominate public forum on Charleston tourism

Whether or not Charleston’s tourism industry is at a “tipping point” and which areas of the industry are causing it were the central topics Thursday night at the Tourism Advisory Council’s public forum.

Many who lined up to offer their input rejected the city’s notion that the number of bars on upper King Street and Market Street had brimmed over their limit.

Jamie Price, a local developer who helped establish the monthly Second Sunday on King Street event, opposed the city’s proposed ordinance that would require future bars and restaurants in entertainment districts to close at midnight.

“This is a European-type city with a phenomenal night life,” Price said. “This is not what this city is about. This city is about life, and that’s what they’re taking away.”

Seaton Brown, an admissions counselor at the College of Charleston, said if patrons have to leave a bar before midnight “they won’t want to go home, they’ll want to go to the bars that are open until 2 a.m., which adds to the traffic and mobility problems that King Street is already suffering from.”

City Planner Tim Keane said that the growth of bars are stifling retailers on Upper King and that neighborhoods nearby need retail.

Other residents at the meeting said the “tipping point” of the tourism problems was on the other side of town.

Robert Ball, a physician and professor at C of C, said the biggest concern was the amount of soot emitted from cruise ships idling at the terminal.

“We are at a tipping point. We need to take action on … shore power for cruise ships,” he said. “I would urge the city to partner with SPA and Carnival to enact whatever you need to … to transform a line along the front of Union Pier where cruise ships will be docked to reduce health risks to our residents on the East side.”

Carrie Agnew, a resident of Legare Street who has long been an advocate for cruise ship regulations, went a step further and questioned whether a larger cruise ship terminal should be built at the edge of the peninsula’s historic district.

“This city has tipped over,” she said. “I do not see how we could have a terminal that is twice the size of what we have now with twice the number of parking spaces and not have a lot more problems with tourism. Why is it being placed directly next to a historic neighborhood?”

Keane and Riley also got an earful, not for the first time, about the need for more bike corrals along heavily trafficked streets, and more public bathrooms.

Alfred Ray, a longtime tour guide, said visitors often need bathroom breaks while touring historic areas such as White Point Gardens, and suggested that the private bathrooms at Hazel Parker Playground on East Bay Street be opened to the public.

“We have a public facility paid for with public money which has private bathrooms. Is that even legal?” Ray said.

Keane said Thursday’s forum was the final “input-gathering session” of the Tourism Advisory Council’s process to update the city’s Tourism Management Plan. The council has also received feedback from the downtown neighborhood associations and it has conducted surveys about residential concerns with tourism.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906

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Managing Tourism and more: Let’s connect the dots.

Inauspicious.  That summarizes the first Charleston Tourism Committee Forum, held April 7th in crowded meeting room at 75 Calhoun.  Instead of a forum, citizens were relegated to asking questions on 3×5 cards.  Then, rather than listen to citizen input, one city official chose to pontificate, giving his opinion as fact, declaring that there should be public restrooms near White Point Gardens “because people down there want them,” and that the cruise terminal won’t be moved up to the Columbus Street Terminal, “because it’s the most important cargo terminal in South Carolina.”

To this observer, the first question read from a submitted card was brilliant:  “Given the overbalance of committee members who are either directly involved with tourism or who profit from it,” what assurance can we have that the real tourism issues downtown and in the historic district will be addressed?   No reason to bore you with the non-answer response.

But there is hope that at TONIGHT’S MEETING at the Charleston Museum, the Tourism Committee will actually let the public speak and that City officials might listen. (1)

Why?   First, there was a follow up Committee meeting on May 29th at the Historic Charleston Foundation.   And prior to that meeting, many residents expressed their dissatisfaction of that first meeting to both committee members and city officials.  Secondly, Steve Gates, chairman of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., prepared a cogent 12-page statement of tourism concerns complete with specific recommendations; it appears to be an excellent blueprint.(2)  Thirdly, the committee members, including good new members who have recently been added, appear to be taking their tasks seriously.   And fourth, then came April-May, 2014–perhaps the two most horrible months in history for living in Charleston, a time when even the most oblivious realized that we’ve stepped beyond the “tourism tipping point.”  As the 5-million tourists-per-year threshold may be breached this year, some finally asked the right question:  What is Charleston’s “tourist carrying capacity”?

Yes, there are those who still don’t see the potential catastrophe of rampant tourism.   Only yesterday in the Post and Courier, a letter-writer was near apoplectic that the newspaper editorial board wanted to “‘lighten the tourism load'” as that would surely cause “a major reduction in tourism dollars, resulting in jobs lost and businesses struggling.”(3)   This should be called “reverse NIMBYism.”   The letter writer was from…North Charleston.

That May 29th meeting may have market a turning point for another reason.  Mayor Joseph Riley announced several tourism initiatives on-the-spot, asserting that these problems were so obvious that there was no need to wait for a final report to take action.  He pledged to put three new tourism enforcement officials on-the-street under the supervision of the Livability Officer.  He pledged to continue the moratorium prohibiting any new special events for the peninsula, he said the city would crack down on short-term rentals, and he would ask the city council to end the sale of liquor at midnight for new establishments.  This blog isn’t often complimentary of the mayor, but these were welcome and needed actions.

Yet there’s a large concern beyond tourism that will negatively impact the value and quality of life in Charleston.  It’s equal to the scourge of the proposed, ill-sited cruise terminal bereft of any meaningful restrictions on growth.  It’s large-scale development.  The recently scotched proposal for a new Sergeant Jasper complex is an ominous case-in-point.  That proposal (as presented to several neighborhood associations this spring) called for three large-scale buildings set on three parcels at the west end of Broad Street between the city tennis courts and Lockwood Blvd, and it included plans for a 70,000 sq. ft. office building on the now-vacant St. Mary’s field.  Then to accommodate thousands of square feet of new apartment units, the developers planned a four-story, 700-car parking facility in addition to retail spaces on both Barre and Broad Streets near the center of this huge complex.(4)  The traffic impact on this already-congested corner could be immense.  Right now–not a week or month later–is the time for the city to toughen the requirements for all new large-scale projects that seemingly get approved without adequate parking (or enforcing existing regulations), without adequate open public space, and without any requirement to conduct a truly comprehensive traffic study that considers all existing and potential traffic impacts, not just whatever traffic is added by a new project.

A new Sergeant Jasper project proposal will likely be revealed at any moment.  Will the city ensure us that, before any approval, the proposal will comport with the small scale architecture and historic ambiance of the surrounding neighborhoods and that the traffic impacts will be significantly reduced from the original?

Tourism grew out of control, in part, because five different commissions are involved in promoting, permitting and policing it.   No one, it seems, was managing the big picture.  While it appears that we’re finally focused on the rapidly growing impacts of tourism, and let’s hope we are, there are other big threats.  Let’s study all of them.  Let’s connect the dots.

# # #

–Jay Williams, Jr.
12 June 14

 

Written by jwilliams
The Charleston Cruise Control Blog, written by Jay Williams, Jr., published periodically since May, 2011, consists of opinions and discussions about cruise ship tourism. Although Jay is involved with various local organizations, the opinions he expresses are solely his; they do not represent the views of any organization or other individual.  Mr. Williams is an independent blogger/writer. We present these blogs for C4 website visitors as an information source and as an additional way to chronologically follow the debates, commentaries and discussions about cruise tourism in Charleston.

footnotes/links

1)  The Tourism Commission meeting will be held tonight, June 12th, 2014, at the Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting Street.  This is an important meeting; please attend!

2)  The CNA board approved tourism recommendations for Charleston.

3)  “Wrong Message,” Letters to the editor, P&C, June 11, 2014
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140611/PC1002/140619915/1025/letters-to-the-editor-for-wednesday-june-11

4)  There is a concise write-up of the Beach Company’s original Sergeant Jasper presentation in the current issue of Preservation Progress, The Preservation Society of Charleston’s magazine.  It is available at the Preservation Society book store at 147 King Street.

The resident in Charleston has become an endangered species.

To Whom It May Concern:

 

To add to the public record of residents on the issue of tourism and its impact on residential neighborhoods, I would like to make the following statements:

 

As a friend who would like to remain anonymous has so aptly put it to me, “ The resident in Charleston has become an endangered species. As such, they should be afforded the protections due to an endangered species.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

The concept of living a life of quiet enjoyment, not the legally deeded kind but the physical kind, has just simply gone missing in downtown Charleston. At any gathering of residents of the neighborhoods, there is always a review of the latest trespass by tourists or college students. I personally would hate to have to count the number of times my dog has stopped to inspect vomit or I have stepped in it in the Harleston Village area. Livability Court and the willingness to cite violators is the only thing that makes living in a college area a possibility. In other neighborhoods, residents have viewed tourists relieving themselves in their driveways, even on their rose bushes. People have had their doors knocked upon followed by inquiries to use the facilities or view their garden. Are we on display like show animals. If so, I’d like to have the city pay for my costumes. I’m fond of Armani.

 

There are several issues at the top of my list.

1. What possible benefit could be afforded residents by putting a cruise terminal with 900 flat surface parking spaces in the residential neighborhoods. The first thing the city could do to prove that it had an interest in the well-being of the residents would be to get that terminal and its fall-out vehicle congestion, people traffic congestion and parking issues out of the residential areas. It cannot be justified and it is foolishness to not accommodate the people and cars elsewhere and transport those tourists to their destination by public transport. The revenue will still be there, the tourists and their cars won’t be. To not do this indicates to the residents that the city administration just doesn’t care about those of us who have no alternative but to use those streets.

2. Shore power. How can a city that has signs outside of schools stating that you should  not idle your vehicle because students breathe there, allow ships to idle in port with no shore power.

 

These first 2 are no-brainers. There is no justification for having the terminal where it is planned to be. There is no reason to add the burden of poor air-quality to the other congestion related quality-of-life issues currently challenging the peace and quiet of those residing on the Charleston peninsula.

 

Why would anyone take prime real estate and plan a 900 space flat surface parking lot?What a stupid use of tax dollars and space. Wherever you decide to put a 900 space flat surface parking lot in the year 2014, it should at least incorporate solar so that the residents of whatever neighborhood you place it in will have an energy break for their troubles. Other countries have managed this. Why can’t we?

 

If you’re going to put something massive in a space so prominent, why not make it world class…think Sydney Opera House. There is a glorious bridge already in place, a world class facility could be placed where the terminal is slated to be. You could put solar over the parking lot and a park on top of the building. Get out of the box and really go for it if you’re going to mess around with the neighborhoods and put something there that everyone can enjoy, not just a tourist bringing a car down so they can get on a ship and go somewhere else.

3. Could we please have a moratorium on building for the hotels and office buildings over 3 stories that have already been approved until we can adopt a set of guidelines for the next 20 years that isn’t based on the last 20 years. When you put a building up that is over 3 stories, and then you do it again and again and again, you have no idea how much you are limiting the light and the visual vista that create a town that feels manageable rather than a city. Go to Charlotte if you want to see a small city. People do not come to Charleston to experience a small city. They come to enjoy, among other things, a historic city with beautiful architecture. The pitiful nature of the ugly architecture that has risen around the city in the last few years is unforgivable. If you’re going to do something, at least try to get it right. I actually sat through a City Council meeting in which a decision that was being requested for a large building was referred to by the presenter as ‘non-precedent setting’. Please. Think about that.

4. Clearly the silo effect of planning events and tourism has to change. Someone must coordinate it all and make it work for the residents, not just visitors.

5. Try to pay a little attention to the residents of the city and their specific needs. A friend of mine  owns a car that was hit by someone and a witness left a note including a license plate number for the car that did the damage. As of 6 weeks later, and many calls to the police, the issue had not even been investigated. The police were ‘too busy’.  As Giuliani stated so many times as he cleaned up New York, “Its the little things that count.”

6.  Public toilets in residential neighborhoods. When I travel, I plan accordingly and don’t expect there to be a public restroom at my disposal. There could be signs that say that “You are entering a residential neighborhood. There are no public restrooms, plan accordingly.” That doesn’t seem so hard now, does it?

 

Thank you for your time.

 

Leslie Scanlan