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Aug 27 2016

Kiawah Island Town Council Narrowly Approves Controversial Rezoning

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer

Kiawah Island boasted perfect weather conditions on Aug. 2. It was way too nice outside to be in, but inside is where the Town of Kiawah Island holds its meetings, and this one got off to an early start. Two related zoning ordinances had progressed to the point of public hearings.

Both measures were requested by the Kiawah Island Community Association to ratify their purchase of the existing municipal center from the town. The site is currently zoned for “community support,” but according to appraisers, it has a dramatically higher value if zoned for “residential use.” Mayor Charles Lipuma kicked things off at 1:30 p.m. by informing a robust crowd, “This is not a give and take, but comments will be recorded and considered.”

Andrew Capelli, a longstanding member of the town’s Planning Commission began with a bit of history.

He reminded council:

The Planning Commission had voted 4-2 against efforts to rezone the parcel at its most recent meeting.

There was no history of overrides of Planning Commission recommendations by town council. Consequently, overriding this recommendation would “fly in the face” of the Planning Commission vote.

He then called for a rejection of what he categorized as KICA’s “unstated desires” for rezoning the parcel, underscoring his point with a number of rhetorical questions.

KICA’s own covenants prohibit land speculation, he observed.

Why are the zoning changes being requested?

What is [KICA’s] planned use?

Lynda Leffler, president of the Inlet Cove Homeowners Association, echoed many of Capelli’s points, wondering aloud why the change was needed. She added some population density numbers to the debate, which would impact all of Kiawah if residences were built on Beachwalker drive after rezoning. Leffler, already imploring the town for relief from traffic associated with adjacent Beachwalker Park, illustrated how the problem would only get worse. Her comments would be followed by an parade of KICA board members.

Marilyn Olson, vice chair of KICA, expressed her support of the rezoning measure. Lynn Morgenstern said KICA needed the space, especially as Kiawah approached buildout. Townsend Clarkson stated KICA had no plans [for the parcel] beyond office and meeting space, but needed the flexibility, saying there would be many benefits under a new zoning category. John Connolly batted cleanup for the board, saying KICA had a fiduciary responsibility to maximize every dollar spent. Kiawah resident Art Morgenstern also spoke in favor of the rezoning.

You negotiated the sale [of the existing municipal building] … if you don’t move forward, you are backing away from an agreement you made. You need to carry out your side of the bargain,” said Morgenstern.

However, Planning Commission Chairman Fred Peterson had the last word, saying the parcel should be zoned for community support only, without the contingency of commercial and/or residential use. There would be a short lag following Peterson’s comments before a slightly tardy start to the scheduled town council meeting, and ultimately, a first reading of the related ordinances.

All council members were present except Mary Johnson, who participated by phone. There was also a raft of staff from both the town and KICA present. The minutes from several recent meetings were approved with one little tweak.

Council member Craig Weaver had an issue with the minutes of the last Ways and Means committee meeting. He said the memorandum of understanding between the town and KICA does not saddle the town with the obligation to remove all debris which has to be removed and suggested the wording be adjusted accordingly.

Citizen’s Comments

Kiawah resident Dennis McGill said he had previously addressed council on its ordinances, specifically merit increases for staff, being the purview of the entire council. He reminded council they had come out of an executive session on May 4 and decided on a merit increase of 2.5 percent across the board. He expressed dismay town staffers Jim Jordan, head of wildlife, and Rusty Lameo, head of code enforcement, (two of four employees currently paying money back to town following the forensic audit) had received larger than recommended raises [3 percent] as well as $500 dollar bonuses.

How did the increases/bonuses come about without formal approval of council, McGill asked. The mayor responded saying the 2.5 percent was intended to reserve a pool of funds in the budget and were not necessarily an indication of the amount to be applied to each employee.

Council member John Labriola said the budget had been the most detailed in years suggesting an equivalency between the vote on the budget and salaries.

New Business

New Business began with Weaver making a motion for a new level of staffing and payment with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. The Public Safety Committee was asked to look at a more appropriate level of coverage. The PSC recommended altering coverage by reducing CCSO coverage at Freshfields Village by one on the first and third shifts, so that only one would be there. Supervision of these resources was also reviewed.

The existing contract with CCSO paid supervisors an hourly rate PSC thought could be modified to a flat fee. The recommendation from PSC was to pay a lieutenant $10,000 a year and a captain $15,000 a year in an effort to control costs and also hold the hourly rate for officers to $25 an hour. The mayor observed that a deputy who shows up late for a shift would stay past the end of a shift to get paid for full shift. Weaver said they discovered that was occurring, and the town will stop it.

Lameo will work with Brokaw & Martin to avoid repeats of this situation and place

caps on overtime. The mayor said the bottom line is managing the system. He said if people aren’t managed, they will do things to increase their paycheck. Weaver also said there could have been instances when six deputies were on duty rather than four.

Labriola said he would not support the motion because there are enormous intangible “feeling of safety” benefits to having deputies here, and it’s a cause and effect situation. He doesn’t want the town to be in the position of hiring its own law enforcement because of bad activity. The measure passed 4-1 with Labriola voting “Nay.”

The second item of new business was approval of Charleston Area Rapid Transit Authority’s budget. Jeff Byrnes recently left CARTA to become a senior planner with Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments. However, he honored his commitment to attend and offered to answer questions, rather than go through a formal presentation. Council member John Wilson asked what the subsidy/ride was. Byrnes responded the subsidies were about $2/trip on average. The mayor said criticism he hears is about overall efficiency of operation.

Byrnes said new technology will allow CARTA to collect better data and improve efficiency. The subsequent vote passed unanimously. The town then approved $25,000 for the purchase of a new amphibious vehicle.

The town has kept one through the years to take town staff places on Kiawah where no biologist has ever gone without one.

Discussion of the two rezoning measures constituted the last two items of new business and quickly devolved into a discussion of options. Right out of the gate, both Wilson and Weaver (both former KICA board members) voiced their objections to the rezoning. Over the past few weeks, the sale of Town Hall to KICA had been the hot topic at both the Planning Commission and KICA Board meeting. The outcome of both meetings raised questions regarding KICA’s rezoning demand. Labriola thought it important that Ways and Means understand the financial implications of not selling the building. “It’s a big deal,” he said and had asked the town’s treasurer to put the financing plans in context. A protracted discussion followed.

The town’s treasurer completed the analysis (available at Town Hall). Her summary suggested an outstanding balance in both cases (rent the building or sell to KICA) would be a little bit more than $3 million by the end of 2020.

Council member Wilson said the town was currently making 1.5 percent on investments and seemed impressed with the rate of return. “If KICA doesn’t want to buy this, then so be it,” Wilson added.

Lipuma speculated if council upholds the Planning Commission vote and takes the route of KICA being a long-term tenant, nothing would prevent the town from looking for other buyers willing to purchase and lease, maybe even to KICA.

Mayor Lipuma asked the hypothetical question: If the town did not have two “onerous” 15-year lease extensions with basically no rent and as a matter of business investment, the town could get $3.5 million, would it be better for the town not to sell but to rent? Wilson said it was “probably marginally better” to sell. Labriola said it is a unique situation for property owners given interest rates for lending on construction projects. The mayor observed: municipalities are limited in what it can invest in, low yield kinds of things, but real estate can be rented out.

However, and despite a motion by Weaver to remove the residential component, the measure to make the zoning changes would pass 3-2 with Weaver and Wilson voting “Nay.”


The town administrator had three items to report and turned the mic over to Rusty Lameo for the first item. Lameo had presented a proposal from Carolina Waste during last month’s meeting. The proposal provided funding for scanning devices on trash cans which would save staff time and improve efficiency. However, it turns out the $8,400 he quoted was per month, not per year and he withdrew his endorsement but he wasn’t finished.

Lameo also reported receiving an email from Carolina Waste informing him Sonoco is closing its North Charleston recycling facility and everything would have to go to Columbia. The additional cost to the town would be about $2,000 a month. Further investigations will be conducted and options forthcoming.

Jordan handled item No. 2. He announced an upcoming study/inventory of alligators on the island. He also reported on the exigent measures being taken by the town (with help from KICA) to address mosquitos. The Island’s governing entities typically fog for adult mosquitos and will continue the practice. They also have dropped larvicide from the air once/year in the past. The threat of the Zika virus, however, has raised concerns, and the aerial assault on immature mosquitoes will be conducted twice this year.

The town administrator took the lead on the third item in her report. Last month’s report included an update on the town’s search for a new attorney. Charleston area attorney Dwayne Green had advised the ad hoc legal committee, a rate of $160/hour and a minimum of 10 hours/week (e.g. $80,000 a year – about the same the town is currently paying for 30 hours/week) would generate sufficient interest in the position. This month, the town administrator reported Green had recused himself from the committee and was now a candidate for the position.

The mayor reported that he, Seabrook Mayor Ron Ciancio and Paul Roberts met with Charleston mayor Tecklenburg.

Their objective was a comparison between widening Main/Bohicket and River Road versus building new expressway across Johns Island.

Citizen’s Comments (second round)

Kiawah resident Wendy Kulick had a number of questions for council this month.

1. Kulick started by observing the registration period for the upcoming the town election was fast approaching. She asked when the current members would announce their intentions to run and when the town would announce the opening of the registration period.

2. She asked, again, when her many and long standing questions to council during citizen’s comments would be answered.

3. She said she was just seeing CARTA’s budget for the first time, but added “if there are no positive improvements for Johns Island service in it, the town should question why not.”

4. She suggested the town talk to the resort about recycling, since it recycles virtually everything.

5. She urged council not to take intractable positions regarding the sale of Town Hall to KICA. “We are all members of KICA, including town council members,” she concluded.

Dennis McGill had plenty of questions about the contract with the town’s current attorney (who will resign Jan. 1, 2017).

He asked again why Rhoad was originally getting $2,000 plus per month “allegedly” for use of office and staff when “He worked from his home,” and which now seems to have been eliminated. He asked how that figure was derived and then asked for a copy of the original agreement. The town administrator said she would have to get back to him.

Kiawah resident David Destefano voiced his opposition to the rezoning required by KICA as part of their purchase of Town Hall and seemed worried KICA intended to flip the property. There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.

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