Sen. Grooms and Rep. Merrill deliver legislative update at June DINA meeting
It could have been called the Night of A Thousand Updates. Okay, maybe not a thousand, really, but it was a not-so-brief briefing on all things Daniel Island.
To his credit, Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA) president Glenn Williman remained true to form in keeping a good clock on the June 7 meeting at Church of the Holy Cross. He rolled from old business to new business to featured speakers seamlessly, respectful of both guests’ remarks and members’ time.
Traffic, planning, and parks with Councilman White
City of Charleston Councilman Gary White noted that the City had received a number of complaints related to parking on the island, primarily too close in proximity to stop signs, mailboxes, and crosswalks. In response, an initiative was kicked off on May 18 to more closely monitor adherence to traffic guidelines and identify areas for better signage. White cautioned that an increase in parking citations could result.
Speaking next on two projects recently presented to City planning, White indicated that of the two potential apartment projects – one at 255 River Landing Drive and the other at 210 River Landing – only the former is currently moving forward, as the latter was denied by the Daniel Island Architectural Review Board and is likely to stall before the City as well.
Addressing island park space, Councilman White stated that the construction on restroom and picnic facilities at Freedom Park is expected to be completed in early September. He also shared that draft agreements between the City and the Department of Natural Resources related to the Daniel Island boat landing are expected to be on the July 19 City Council agenda. Improvements to the trails on the island have been completed, and the shoreline stabilization project is expected to commence toward the end of this year with completion in early 2017. The City is waiting on the Department of Transportation’s feedback related to the bike path between St. Thomas Island and Daniel Island, and White is hopeful the project will be out for bid in the third quarter of 2016.
Regarding the Parks and Recreation needs assessment that was conducted last year, White stated that a first draft should be ready to present to the community soon. He also shared that consultants for the City have been working on “schematics” for a new island community center, and details to share with residents are forthcoming, though no timetable has been set. Williman added that DINA will likely form a new committee to track the progress of the Daniel Island recreation/community center, and anyone interested in serving on that task force should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Committees old and new
Clyde Rush, DINA’s Land Use and Zoning committee chair, reported that the City’s Technical Review Committee had recently taken a first look at a hotel to be constructed at the corner of Fairchild Street and River Landing Drive. Rush also reminded the group that updates are always posted to DINA’s website (dineighborhoodassociation.org), and Williman indicated that a “snapshot” of current island projects would be included in an upcoming “DINA Dashboard” column in the Daniel Island News.
Safety Committee chair Marie Delcioppo offered kudos and thanks for all the volunteers and supporters of the successful school safety patrol program at Daniel Island School. She noted that the spring-launched initiative had 25 volunteers during its first run, and with the addition of more manpower, she hopes to add another intersection to the pilot location of Daniel Island Drive and Pierce Street this fall. Remarked Williman of the hard work invested in the school safety program, “This is a concrete example of getting something done.”
The DINA president then shared that he had been contacted by ten members interested in serving on a new “Transition Committee,” which would be charged with exploring the “ins and outs” of Daniel Island evolving from a developer-controlled community to a resident-controlled community over the next two to five years. The committee would work closely with the Daniel Island Property Owners Association, ideally meeting with the POA on a monthly basis. Williman also mentioned that DINA and the POA hope to jointly sponsor a special meeting to update the community on the Seven Farms Drive/Daniel Island Drive intersection early this fall.
A word from Team 5
Officers from Charleston Police Department’s Team 5 on Daniel Island reported that the spike in property crime, particularly vehicle theft and theft from vehicles, has subsided over the last few weeks. The officers shared that in all cases arrests have been made or suspects identified, and that in nearly all instances, the crimes were perpetrated by juveniles that were either from Daniel Island or associated with residents of Daniel Island. They also noted that every case likely could have been prevented by locked doors or secured vehicles; one recent suspect was found with a backpack containing four sets of car keys that had been obtained “without a single broken window.” Lastly, the officers noted that traffic enforcement would be ramped up during the summer months as kids are biking and walking the island more during time off from school.
State legislature 411
Following a colorful introduction by DINA vice president Bob Graham, South Carolina Senator Larry Grooms and South Carolina Representative Jim Merrill took the podium. Each took a few moments to speak about the capacity in which they serve in the state government, as well as recent legislative activity.
Rep. Merrill, a 16-year member of the General Assembly, stated that he is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for budget writing. With a $7.5 billion budget this year, Merrill expressed that having a surplus creates “an absolute free-for-all, an all-out frenzy” related to determining how those excess dollars will be spent. The wide scope of funding to address, broken down to the “minutia” of allocations, results in a time consuming process that Merrill said yielded “alright” results last month. He did note that spending never exceeds income, as the state adheres to its constitutional balanced budget requirement. “We don’t do what Washington did. We don’t go into debt,” Merrill explained. “You take a lot of heat for that sometimes, but I’ll tell you what, it keeps your bond ratings in good stead.” He likened state government to a battleship, remarking that it doesn’t turn on a dime, and that the needs and logic of one part of the state don’t mirror those of another.
Though grateful for the “honor to serve” and optimistic regarding the way forward for the state, Sen. Grooms lamented that “the political discourse in Washington has sort of filtered its way down to South Carolina.” Still, as the most recent two-year session of the General Assembly wrapped up two weeks ago, one bill that was able to pass was that related to roads. Grooms, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, remarked that it was no small feat to get 170 “highly opinionated” members of the General Assembly to move the roads bill forward. The next day, June 8, Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill into law.
To begin to fix the state’s deteriorating roads, the bill provides for $200 million per year from the general fund to the Department of Transportation, in addition to another $2.2 billion borrowed, over the next decade. Most immediately, the funds would pay for repair of the nine worst “chokepoints” in the state; two of such projects are in the Charleston area: widening I-26 to three lanes to just past new Volvo plant and widening I-526 to three lanes from Clements Ferry Road to Long Point Road. In addition, 399 structurally deficit bridges will be repaired, and $1 billion will be spent to improve highways and secondary roads. The bill also calls for the governor to appoint the members of the commission that oversees the Transportation Department, and shifts to her office more power over the state’s “Infrastructure Bank.”
The Senator said this allows for decision-making based on real priorities, not politics. “That’s a step in the right direction for the state of South Carolina… We took a giant step forward with this roads bill,” concluded Grooms, adding, “but it’s certainly not the destination of where we want to be.”
Sen. Grooms mentioned that he and Rep. Merrill are also chair and co-chair, respectively, of the oversight board for the SCPA, and the two played a critical role in passing legislation to deny the Ports Authority the right to build a Daniel Island-based terminal. While spoil cells for dredge material will remain on 900 of the 1,300 acres of SCPA-owned land to accommodate Charleston’s 52-feet harbor deepening project, Sen. Grooms and Rep. Merrill are working with the Ports Authority to obtain regulatory permission to utilize another portion of the property for a creek restoration and saltwater mitigation bank. And announced late last summer was the transfer of a key 50-acre parcel on the island’s south side to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism - a move intended to safeguard the Daniel Island land from a future risk of terminal construction by cutting off the SCPA’s access. The legislators have indicated that, ideally, the land would be developed into “active” recreation space.
The next meeting of the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association will take place on September 6.