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Charleston committee advances urban renewal plans

Charleston city council's Committee on Urban Renewal gave the green light for the reenactment of two urban renewal areas during its meeting Thursday evening.

The plans will go to city council for final approval.

If the plans pass, a portion of the West Side and a section of downtown will be eligible for projects and programs funded by the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority. Those projects could include facade grants, tax incentives and streetscape overhauls.

The authority would have the power to acquire properties -- though not by imminent domain --  and promote them for development.

Both plans were written in the 1980s, and, like all urban renewal plans, had set expiration dates. When the two plans expired in the mid-2000s, they were never renewed.

"What happened is they expired and nothing was done with them," said at-large Councilman Jerry Ware, committee chairman.

The West Side Urban Renewal Plan, sometimes called the "Near West Side" or "Elk City" plan, contains an area that roughly runs west to east from Hunt Avenue to the Elk River, and north to south from the CSX railroad tracks to the Kanawha River. The plan expired in 2005.

The Downtown/Old Charleston Urban Renewal Plan roughly centers on Capitol Street and includes some blocks east and west. It expired in 2008.

The authority began pushing to have the districts reinstated earlier this year. The plans remain the same as when they expired, but could be amended if they are reenacted, Director Jim Edwards said.

Edwards highlighted some of the authority's accomplishments in its three current urban renewal areas, which include parts of the East End, West Side and the Shrewsbury Street and Smith Street neighborhoods.

Some accomplishments mentioned were new streetscapes on Washington Street West and East, adaptive uses for vacant properties, facade grants and the redevelopment of vacant structures.

Activities now are a stark contrast to urban renewal practices in the past, which usually involved large-scale demolition, Edwards said.

"This is not your father's CURA," he said.

Edwards said there were still buildings on Capitol Street that could be redeveloped, something with which the authority can assist.

"There's still a great deal of investment that needs to be made," he said.

The authority owns three downtown properties -- 500 and 607 Capitol St. and the Holly Hotel lot on Quarrier Street -- that were obtained when those areas were under the expired plans. Edwards said the authority can do a lot more to get those properties developed if the plan is reenacted.

Only the West Side plan produced comments and concern.

Richard Young, who owns property on the West Side, said he was worried about use restrictions being placed on his properties. He was worried about parking and zoning requirements as well.

East End Councilwoman Mary Beth Hoover, a committee member, told Young that in her experience, having an urban renewal district and access to CURA programs has helped the neighborhood.

"I want to ease your concern that this is a good thing for the West Side. It will bring more value to your businesses," she said.

Planning Director Dan Vriendt also told Young nothing would change for him under the renewal plan concerning zoning or procedures for building codes. However, CURA programs would be available to property owners, should they choose to use them.

Tony Marx, executive vice president of the First Bank of Charleston, said the bank had to go through CURA under the expired plan when the property was redeveloped. He said the bank would prefer to just go directly to the city for future work.

"What we have asked for is to be cut out," he said. "We've redeveloped our area."

Others expressed support.

Beth Kerns, a longtime West Side resident and member of West Side Main Street, used the example of the Staats Hospital as a project with which the authority could assist.

"The way it stands now, it's going to collapse on itself."

West Side Main Street Director Stephanie Johnson said the plan would help the organization achieve some of its goals.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.


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