Thursday, June 5, 2014
Several years ago, the world witnessed the Arab Spring. Fueled by a fervor for change, mobilized and united by social media, people in some Arab countries took steps to change the government of their countries.
Well, call this the Shem Creek Spring. Mount Pleasant residents saw what in their view was a threat to the view and ambiance of their town's iconic place and scenery, and much like the citizens of those Arab countries, mobilized and united through social media to effect change. They showed up in droves at a town council meeting; they asked for background documents and up-to-date information on the issue of the proposed 55-foot-tall building/parking garage structure at the corner of Mill Street and Coleman Boulevard, and engaged with the town's elected leaders and staff to see what could be done. The Facebook group “Saving Shem Creek” quickly grew to 367 members, and then last week, the big breakthrough came. Another group, Protect Coleman Boulevard and Our Old Village Neighborhood, has over 600 members.
Late last week, Mayor Linda Page issued a statement directly to the group, and to the general public as well, saying “The developer now claims that construction of a parking facility is economically unfeasible.” Her lengthy and thorough explanation, addressed to Saving Shem Creek leader Jim Owens, lays out the many issues involved with this site and the town's signed agreement with the would-be developer to provide public parking on the site. In a nutshell, the project as vaguely proposed fell off the table after the town's legal counsel advised that it was in fact subject to the new setback requirements (20 feet from all streets as opposed to 5 feet) and would not be exempt under a “civic use” allowance. There are more facets to this, but that is the gist of it.
Mayor Page pointed out that the developer has not submitted a final plan or design for the structure and that the developer may proceed with building something that meets the town's existing requirements. Her message states, “It is our understanding, and this is not confirmed, that if the developer cannot move forward with a parking facility/office building they will move forward with development of an office building.”
We will never know what might have happened along the way if private citizens like Jim Owens, former Councilman Jimmy Bagwell and others hadn't mobilized and begun disseminating information to other concerned citizens.
No one should infer any bad intent on the part of any of our elected officials on this.
In fact, Jim Owens laid down the law in the Saving Shem Creek Facebook group that everyone must keep a civil tone. “We're interested in results, not rhetoric,” he told me. Nevertheless, this episode in local governance proves once again the power of the people. Information began to flow. Elected officials began to take note, and as Ronald Reagan said, “Even if they didn't see the light, they at least felt the heat.”
But to quote another great world leader, Winston Churchill, “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Why? As Jim Owens told me, “Nothing is going to prevent anybody from going back at this time with a plan for a 55-foot-tall structure at the site. I don't think we're totally out of the woods yet.”