Griffin gives City Council a voice against New Urbanism

Griffin gives City Council a voice against New Urbanism
November 25 12:58 2017 Print This Article

At 22, Harry Griffin may become the youngest person to ever serve on Charleston City Council when he is sworn in on January 23. He defeated Summer Massey in a November 21 runoff after both candidates received more votes than incumbent Dean Riegel in the race for City Council District 10 on November 7. As one of three incoming council members who defeated incumbents, Griffin will be a voice speaking out against the concept of New Urbanism as the West Ashley Master Plan is approved and implemented.

New Urbanism is a city planning concept which promotes high density development and the use of pedestrian travel and mass transit instead of personal vehicles. City Council hired the firm Dover Kohl, a New Urbanism advocate, to facilitate the West Ashley Master Plan, a blueprint for future development in the area. In the firm’s first draft of the document, there was a picture showing Citadel Mall without any parking spaces.

When you visit the website, one of the first things you notice is a promotion for a book entitled “The End of the Suburbs.” The underlying theme in the book is that traditional suburban subdivisions, with single-family homes and people commuting by car, are on their way out. The author and his advocates believe that the suburban lifestyle creates a high “carbon footprint” which is causing global warming. A survey taken by Dover Kohl at four public meetings indicated that 96% of participants use personal vehicles as their primary source of transportation. The firm also used census data to show that 84% of West Ashley residents commute outside of the area.

Griffin made it clear during the campaign that he wants West Ashley to maintain its suburban character. District 10, which includes subdivisions from Pierpont to MacLaura Hall (excluding Drayton on the Ashley) and Village Green, Shadowmoss, Hickory Hill, Hickory Farms and part of Grande Oaks, consists almost entirely of single-family homes. Mass transit and bicycling is not convenient for most of the people in the district.

The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments recently released a study calling for 1300 miles of pedestrian and bicycle paths in tri-county area, which could easily cost more than $100 Million. Griffin has made it clear that Charleston’s top funding priority should be repairing the drainage system in the flood-prone Church Creek Drainage Basin. A five-month study by engineering firm Weston and Sampson put a $44 Million price-tag on needed drainage system upgrades.

At a recent meeting at West Ashley High School to review the drainage recommendations, Mayor John Tecklenburg revealed that the city collects $10 Million annually in stormwater drainage fees. Griffin wants to see a full accounting of how that money is spent. He also wants the city to publish a maintenance schedule for the drainage system so people can hold the Public Works Department accountable. During the campaign, he walked the perimeter of the Church Creek basin and took pictures showing ditches clogged with debris and damaged pipes.

Griffin says the neglected drainage system is indicative of how West Ashley projects have taken a back seat to those for Downtown. “For too long, West Ashley has been over-looked,” he said. He notes that flooding has damaged the quality of life for most of the people in his district. He contends that more spending on mass transit and bicycle paths should not come before fixing the drainage system.

Before being sworn in, Griffin intends to schedule Town Hall meetings in District 10 to find out what the residents want for the district’s future. While there is a vocal minority that advocates for more bicycle paths, the hundreds of residents who have experienced flooding damage since 2015 don’t view that as a top priority. Reducing the area’s “carbon footprint” will not make people more secure in their homes. Harry Griffin will be their voice.