Congressman Mark Sanford discusses his park vision with DI residents
In the last days of his time in office, Congressman Mark Sanford returned to an idea that he’s kicked around since 2006— a 400 plus acre green space on the Wando River side of lower Daniel Island. Some call the project Charleston’s Central Park, but Sanford refers to it as the Tri-County Waterfront Park.
“I think that this park concept represents an incredible opportunity for Daniel Island and the Tri-County area,” Sanford stated.
In an effort to bring the community into the process of developing the park concept, Sanford and the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association hosted a Q&A with local residents on Tuesday, November 26 at Providence Baptist Church, the same place Sanford originally proposed the idea some 12 years ago. More than 120 people turned out to take part in the session.
The congressman began the forum by discussing his history with the park proposal.
“I was governor at the time,” he explained. “At that time, they were doing a proposal for a very large port terminal on the tip of Daniel Island. The Ports Authority required 1,300 acres, 800 of which would be the so called Global Gateway, a really large container port terminal at the tip of Daniel Island.”
The large scale port was eventually scrapped and moved to a different location in North Charleston. But Sanford continued to ponder the idea of setting aside some of the port’s remaining land on Daniel Island for recreational use.
“What if you took just a portion of that—400 acres—and allocated that to open space and then the remainder could be developed?” he inquired.
Sanford then reiterated some comments he has made in several past public statements.
“All of the great cities around the world have parks of scale, not on the periphery,” he said. “…If you just let places grow and don’t get really deliberate about setting aside space, then it all just gets developed. Look at the whole New York, Connecticut, New Jersey metro area.”
The concept would not play out immediately, Sanford said, as the land is currently needed for dredging by the State Ports Authority. But the time to set it aside is now, he stated.
“Land like this will not stay (undeveloped),” Sanford told his audience. “..It’s not this versus nothing. It’s this versus something else…We need to be deliberate.”
After he fully explained his reasoning for pursuing the park, Sanford opened the floor for public comment.
One resident mentioned a tract of land that the Ports Authority acquired, running from Clements Ferry Road to the west side of Daniel Island, and suggested it as a new access point to alleviate the heavy traffic that the park would likely bring.
“They had acquired condemned property” from citizens who had lived there for generations, Sanford mentioned. “There’s been some return of some of that property to some of those folks,” he mentioned, before stating that an additional access point in that area is a good idea and that he would do his “homework” and further investigate the suggestion.
The next question had to do with funding and maintaining the property, to which Sanford replied that it wouldn’t cost as much as a full development.
“You could do things that are relatively low-key on that front,” he said. “You’re not building a bunch of fancy buildings and a bunch of fancy infrastructure that has to be maintained.”
In the same statement, he hinted that the project could come from smarter spending.
“The most shocking thing to me about being Governor of South Carolina was the amount of money that literally got burned in stupid projects,” he mentioned. “All of us have seen those four lane roads from nowhere to nowhere in parts of South Carolina because a local state senator wanted the road paved to wherever, and the road gets paved at great cost.”
Another resident asked what kind of impact the City of Charleston will have on the project.
“I’ve had a preliminary conversation with the mayor,” said Sanford. “He was in concept for the idea. He didn’t make any commitments. I don’t want to put him in a box that he’s not in. But, he said ‘in concept, I like the idea.’”
“There’s going to be an anti-growth sentiment in this area,” he added. “There’s a reason Charleston County’s turning blue, not just because of people moving in here, but because of some of the byproducts of that level of growth. I think that there will be a considerable political constituency for the idea of a park of scale in this circle of space in this kind of setting.”
One attendant asked if the Conservation Bank, Boeing, or Volvo had been courted as sources of funds.
Sanford said that large businesses are a solid resource for the project.
“From a corporate standpoint, from a conservation bag, from a green belt standpoint, there are a lot of sources out there that could be accessed,” he stated. “But the first point is the political decision saying ‘are we going to protect the land and set it aside?’”
One of the last questions came from a woman who believed that the infrastructure on the island is not capable of sustaining the amount of activity that the park would bring. Sanford responded to the concern by suggesting one of the more popular solutions.
“You could have water access from Shem Creek, you could have water access from downtown, you could have water access from North Charleston,” he said. “I think as we continue to grow, there’s going to be a vibrant water shuttle service.”
After the meeting, island resident Fred Rosenberg said that he thinks the concept is good. “They’re talking about (something that’s) a long time away,” he added. “It’d be nice to have some phases, what he’s expecting to do. The detailed design of it, that’s going to change.”
“I’m just concerned about the transportation,” said Micki Rosenberg. “One thing we really need here on Daniel Island is to have some buses and to have some bus service.”
“I think it would be so great to have an open space, especially for biking, walking, running,” added island resident Elizabeth Roberts. “I do worry about the traffic, as well, but I think if it’s going to be developed anyway, wouldn’t it be nice to conserve it?”
When asked about his role in the project moving forward, Sanford promised the park will be a part of his agenda long after he leaves office in January 2019.
“There’s no win in this for me,” he said. “I just think it’s a good idea…I think I can help out…and it’s something I care about. It’s something I want to finish.”