From The Daniel Island News|
DINA packs the pavilion, and an hour, with talk of schools, parks, and annexation
By Jennifer Johnston
Oct 23, 2013 - 8:43:02 AM
|A crowd of sixty DINA members gathered promptly for an open-air meeting on October 15 at Pierce Park Pavilion.|
“It will be filed, it’s just a matter of when.”
It was the pointed answer Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA) President Dave Williams gave in response to a member’s question at the association meeting at Pierce Park Pavilion on October 15. The resident had inquired about the future of the petition for the island’s annexation to Charleston County, which has garnered over 750 signatures, well over the necessary 10% of resident voters necessary to shuttle it to the state capital.
Williams began the discussion about the annexation petition by offering a bit of background on the effort to the sixty members present. He reminded the group that issues such as EMS response and recycling, though not what might be considered “major” concerns, had been brought up regularly at DINA meetings over the last several years. Williams also remarked that residents frequently bemoaned the “odd mix” of Daniel Island being the only part of the City of Charleston that is not within Charleston County.
Then, last November, the Berkeley County School District (BCSD) bond referendum passed, an outcome that Williams states was at least partly resulting from many voters being told that grades K through 8 would remain on Daniel Island when the new schools were configured. He acknowledged that the language on the ballot did, in fact, call for construction of “Daniel Island/Cainhoy Area” middle and high schools. But he went on to say that statements delivered “point blank” to island voters before the election made for a forgone conclusion in the voting booth, regardless of the actual ballot verbiage. “I think a lot of people would argue that you go to the poll already knowing what you’re going to do,” Williams suggested. “A lot of people figure that stuff out before they go to vote.”
Williams then referenced a Berkeley County School Board meeting that was held earlier this fall, where it appeared a decision to place a middle school adjacent to the planned high school location near Nelliefield Plantation had all but been formally announced. “It seemed that these decisions were being made behind closed doors, and that’s when we sought the help of the POA (Daniel Island Property Owners Association),” Williams recalled. He went on to say that other questions have been raised in the Berkeley versus Charleston County debate, such as property taxes, but that the school issue is really what kick-started the annexation petition process.
To members who have inquired as to the reason residents did not have the opportunity to vote on any move toward annexation, Williams’ response is that the petition itself is the vote on that. But he was careful to remind DINA members that signatures on the petition are a show of support for exploration of, and information-gathering for, a county switch - not a vote one way or the other. And he clarified that preliminary costs related to this process have been paid from a headcount surplus at the POA (the office was down two employees this year, and replaced just one), and that once that surplus was depleted, future costs would be split between the Daniel Island Community, Park, and Town Associations (DICA, DIPA, and DITA).
So why hasn’t the petition been filed with the governor if the required number of signatures has been collected? Williams stated that every signature must be verified as belonging to a current, registered resident of Daniel Island, and that it is an undertaking certain to take several weeks. But he assured the group that there is no deadline to file the petition, and that there may be some benefit to delay since filing with the governor’s office puts annexation on an irrevocable path toward the ballot.
“Once we do (file), we lose some control of the process,” Williams remarked. “We want to give the schools committee some time to get stuff done, and give (Berkeley County Councilman) Tim Callanan time to do some things. If Berkeley County Schools fixes this situation and comes up with something good, does that affect our desire to file the petition? No. But what it does change is how people would vote. We need 67% majority to annex into Charleston County. Right now, I don’t think we’d get that.”
Update from new BCSD school collaborative committee
Earlier in the evening, Rindy Ryan, who is serving on a committee to define and investigate options for the new Daniel Island/Cainhoy area school along with five other island stakeholders, spoke about the committee’s first meeting on October 9. Ryan indicated that the school board kicked off the meeting by setting forth guidelines for the group’s site selection/population and school type/grade configuration subcommittees, then went on to deliver a presentation on magnet schools. Ryan indicated that it appeared at this point that construction of a magnet school is the direction the school board is leaning, and that judging by the questions raised by the committee members present, “the group is very open to this option.” Ryan also reported that a third-party facilitator, who has not yet been named, will be helping to mediate the committee at future meetings.
Fellow committee member and island resident Ryan Gilsenan stood up to add that the schools committee representatives from the island have made it clear to the other committee members and to the Berkeley County School Board that “keeping K through 8 on Daniel Island is not negotiable.”
Ryan wrapped her briefing by saying that the meetings are open to the public (for observation, not participation), and that they are also videotaped and available for viewing on the school district’s website. The next meeting is scheduled for October 23 at Daniel Island School.
Other matters from DINA
Mark Rencher spoke on behalf of committee chair Frank Walsh, explaining to the group that a couple of projects seem to have gone under the radar with the larger issues of schools and annexation currently at the forefront. The first is the proposed response to traffic issues on the island, which have been partitioned into three phases: angled parking on Seven Farms Drive, a one-lane traffic circle at Seven Farms Drive and Pier View Street, and a two-lane traffic circle at Seven Farms Drive and Daniel Island Drive. A rendering of these projects will be completed soon, and the Safety Committee will publish it for DINA membership to view. The second concern Rencher mentioned was related to potential restaurant construction in the Fairchild commercial area. Traffic issues on the stretch of Daniel Island Drive coming from Clements Ferry Road resulting from the proposed project are being explored.
Guest speaker from
Charleston County Parks
Tom O’Rourke, Executive Director of Charleston County Parks and Recreation (CCPR), was the first of two guest speakers for the evening. O’Rourke first made clear that his department does not fall under the Charleston County government. Commissioners are appointed by the county, but they then have operational autonomy. As an “independent” entity, CCPR is not funded by taxes, but by usage fees. “We do very few things for free,” stated O’Rourke. “Whoever uses the service pays for the service. This puts the cost on the user, so that we don’t just go around taxing everybody for it. And everyone is welcome in our parks.” The department will occasionally enlist sponsors to help keep down costs related to maintenance of, and special events in, its 10,000 acres of park facilities.
Speaking to the impact of a Daniel Island annexation into Charleston County, O’Rourke indicated that CCPR would create something here that would look different from its other parks. “If we woke up tomorrow with Daniel Island, we would tweak our master plan,” he submitted. The island is already in close proximity to Palmetto Islands and Wannamaker County Parks, so in an effort to not duplicate offerings, the department would meet with community members to determine what would be exciting and meaningful here.
“What gets me excited about Daniel Island is that you have water access,” O’Rourke shared. From boardwalks to boat landings and added trails and wagging tails (“We are IN the dog business!” he exclaimed), the director suggested possible elements of new DI facilities.
O’Rourke acknowledged that there are opportunities to do things on this island that can’t be done elsewhere, and hinted that CCPR would elbow its way into line for the Daniel Island property currently owned by the State Ports Authority. “That would be the most amazing park, quite frankly,” he conveyed. “With those views… you’re not going to get property like that anywhere on the east coast.”
Remarks from county and state officials
“I love it when folks start to get engaged again,” Tim Callanan, Berkeley County Councilman opened his segment, referring to the high DINA attendance at the group’s most recent meetings. He went on to share his feeling of “déjà vu” in the annexation discussion, reminded of being charged with ensuring the City of Charleston was “living up to its promises” when he was DINA President seven years ago. “We took the momentum we had as a group, and with our hard work, they did it,” Callanan recalled, adding, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
The councilman invited the group to attend a Berkeley County Finance Committee meeting to be held at the Daniel Island School multi-purpose room on Monday, November 4 at 6:30 pm. “I think people would be surprised at how much progress has been make in our county,” he remarked, noting such examples as a recent tax cut and the reopening of the county satellite office in Goose Creek.
When a DINA member asked about headway made on improvements to Clements Ferry Road, Callanan stated, “Six years ago, I was a supporter of the penny sales tax, and a priority on that list was the Clements Ferry Road widening. Now they are saying it will still be another two years before shovels will be hitting the ground.”
Senator Larry Grooms, also present, stepped forward to offer his perspective on this issue, particularly as it relates to the annexation petition: “Anytime a group says they want to go somewhere else, something’s wrong. I’m very concerned. The DOT does find themselves with a little bit more money, so we’re going to see if we can get (the Clements Ferry Road project) timing moved up.”
State Representative for our district, Jim Merrill, as well as Representative Eddie Southard from Moncks Corner, were also in attendance. Southard spoke up in response to the schools issues raised, clarifying that Berkeley County and Berkeley County School District are two separate entities. An appeal to one does not translate to the other, nor do they make decisions in tandem.
Callanan remarked, “I’ve been out front with my disappointment with the school district. I saw this coming a year ago; I knew the real estate issues.”
Responding to a new member’s inquiry, Callanan also took a moment to clarify that services provided by state counties are the same whether the county in question is Berkeley or Charleston: EMS, 911, courts/detentions, land legal work, mosquito abatement, and recycling. Since Daniel Island happens to fall within a municipality, the City of Charleston steps in where services are not offered at the county level.
The next DINA meeting will take place on November 5 at the Church of the Holy Cross.
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