Upper peninsula Charleston redevelopment is accelerating. The Huger Street/Meeting Street/Morrison Drive corridor is rapidly changing the landscape. And in its course gentrification that has resulted in the displacement of black residents continues. We asked some city officials their thoughts. While elected representatives seem to think development is a runaway train, East Central Neighborhood Council President Elizabeth Jenkins thinks all is not lost.
New construction characterizing the area promises to change predominantly black residential communities on the Upper Peninsula’s eastern quadrant. Charleston City Councilman Robert Mitchell who represents the Dist. 4 where much of the redevelopment is occurring said new development won’t displace too many current residents since few are there now. His concern is for the construction of low income affordable housing that will offer a few more residents some options. But he admits that’s an inadequate goal since developers aren’t interested in constructing low income affordable housing.
Mitchell said residents and city dwellers are at the mercy of developers. “The reality is land on the peninsula is so expensive, we can’t stop it. Developers are buying up the land and we can’t tell them what to do with it. As long as they conform to the regulations, there’s nothing the city can do. The horse is out of the barn and those who lived in that community in the past can’t afford to be there in the future,” he said.
Dist. 3 Councilman James Lewis echoed those sentiments. Developers will continue to do what they do, he said, and the impact will mean nothing to residents who may be unhappy with it, but are unable to do anything about it.
“There’s not a lot that can be done,” Lewis said, “especially when there has not been any investment from the black community. Black churches are a good example of what’s happening. Because they didn’t invest in their communities, they’re now being pushed out of them.”
But East Central neighborhood Council President Elizabeth Jenkins believes residents have the ability to direct development even if city officials don’t. She pointed to a proposal by a West Ashley developer to construct a gas station at the intersection of Sam Rittenburg Boulevard and Highway 171 that was aborted after community protest. Jenkins agreed that the few black residents left in East Central will be overwhelmed by new development of Laurel Island and the Morrison Drive corridor. But it’s not too late to impact what occurs, she feels.
The East Central community represents one of the last areas on the peninsula where undeveloped land still exists. But development shouldn’t change the city, the city should shape development, Jenkins said. That happens in communities such as Mount Pleasant where residents impose their influence on their elected officials, she said. Jenkins balked at city officials using Arthur Ravenel Bridge construction mitigation money to fund streetscape along the corridors of the area. Developers should fund those amenities, she said.
“Developers are making millions of dollars and we’re not getting anything from their developments.” Jenkins said perhaps it’s time city officials place a moratorium on new development until residents and others have a chance to see what their communities will look like in the future. “If developers don’t make money, they leave. If they do, we’ll be left in a ghost town with all these buildings,” she said.