Parks plan aired
Dorchester County Council agreed to hire a master planning firm to shepherd the Pine Trace rezoning through Summerville Town Council, but balked at any further steps at this time.
Part of the resistance came from the timing of the meeting – a special called meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday rather than the usual Monday evening session.
Councilman David Chinnis said he’d prefer a public workshop to hash out the many moving parts of a proposal that involves the county, the school district, the YMCA and several pots of money.
He also questioned whether the county was deviating from its stated goals for this new fiscal year.
The $13,500 contract with Seamon Whiteside & Associates is to assist with rezoning the 300-acre Pine Trace property, which is currently a planned unit development approved for several hundred homes.
The property must be rezoned before the county can sell off any part of it, Councilman Jay Byars said.
Selling part of the property is key to freeing up money for maintenance and operations, he said.
“We don’t have the money to take care of the Rosebrock Park now,” Byars said.
Byars presented to council his suggestions for 2012 priorities for parks and recreation. He proposed:
• Rezoning Pine Trace and selling off a portion, most likely to be used for senior housing. Money from the sale would allow the county to pay off a bond used to finance the original purchase, thereby freeing up about $300,000 per year in cable franchise fees. That money has traditionally been used on recreation projects.
• Collaborating with Dorchester School District 2 on a new magnet middle school of the arts in the Oakbrook area and with the YMCA on improved fields.
• Establishing a revenue stream for the parks without increasing taxes.
• Completing the acquisition of the Ashley River property.
• Completing the St. George courthouse park plans.
He said a new magnet middle school of the arts could go on county-owned land in Oakbrook currently used as YMCA fields. The population center of District 2 is at the entrance of Irongate, so the fields are reasonably close to that center, he said.
That’s also where a joint school-public library could be located, he said.
The Oakbrook land is deed-restricted and must be used for recreation, unless the county can show it’s providing the same or better opportunities elsewhere, Byars said.
He suggested that land near the YMCA’s facility at The Ponds could serve as temporary fields until Pine Trace is built.
The agenda included approving appraisals of the Pine Trace and Oakbrook properties, but council decided that was a step too far.
There’s a lot of moving parts on the plan, Chinnis said, and he didn’t want to vote on something he’d received only an hour before and still didn’t know most of the details of.
He also pointed out that the county generally requires would-be buyers to obtain appraisals of land instead of paying for appraisals itself.
Councilman Richard Rosebrock said he has several concerns he wanted to see resolved. There are questions about how the school district and the public library system can jointly run a library, he said.
He also opposes contracting with the YMCA to run recreation at county parks.
“That’s going to sign a contract for how long? And what’s the consequences of that?” he said.
He’d rather see the county retain operational control, like other counties that council has consulted with, he said.
Councilman Willie Davis wanted council to remember the upper half of the county. Before the cable franchise fee was dedicated to paying off the Pine Trace bond, it had been used to fund small, local parks throughout the county.
Davis said he’d hoped the fee would again be used for rural parks once the Pine Trace bond was paid off.
Council also used the special called meeting to approve second reading of an ordinance reducing the stormwater fee.
Chinnis voted in favor but questioned whether the county can legally exempt religious institutions from the fee.
“I want to make sure we don’t get caught on the wrong end of one of these legal issues,” he said.
After the meeting, Councilman George Bailey, who introduced the stormwater fee reduction, said if the state or feds have a problem with the county exempting religious institutions, then he’d like to see those officials come down to Dorchester and force churches to pay the fee.