Politics, Property and Progress Propels Potential Plight Of Gentrification West Ashley

By Barney Blakeney

The recent flash in the pan news controversy about redevelopment of about 10 acres in the Ashleyville community West Ashley could be more about political personalities than public service. In recent weeks S.C. House Dist. 111 Rep. Wendell Gilliard and former S.C. Senate Dist 42 Sen. Robert Ford have launched a campaign opposing the redevelopment. Ford, ever the unbridled maverick, used the internet to deride city and resident officials while Gilliard took to the streets on a fact-finding mission. City officials have met their challenges with responses that the initiative has been months in the making and that the specter of gentrification being presented comes equally after the fact.

Gilliard said he recently started receiving calls from West Ashley constituents about the planned redevelopment of the property that includes a small trailer park in the predominantly Black riverfront community of Ashleyville. Among the residents being displaced are some who may be unable to find affordable housing, he said. Some 42 new single family housing units are planned for the property.

SC House Rep. Wendell Gilliard speaks with community members during Maryville/Ashleyville listening session June 12. Photo: Tolbert Smalls, Jr.

“We all know the impact gentrification has had on the Charleston peninsula and other communities. Unless it’s stopped residents in traditional, historically Black communities won’t have any place to live,” Gilliard said. “I’m not against change or progress, but we’re never a part of that progress. It’s unacceptable. We must be a part of the economic progress. As a native of the city and an elected official, I feel responsible.”

Charleston City Council Dist. 7 representative Keith Waring said both Gilliard and Ford both represented residents in the area on city council and in the state legislature respectively when the property first was annexed into the city. Its owners, who are white, maintained the property under its previous multifamily residential zoning until recently when the owners decided to sell to a developer. The previous zoning allowed for up to 78 single family housing units, Waring said. The developer, city officials and residents reached an agreement to allow fewer units, but more than the 42 the developer agreed to build.

In this instance, all the parties have acted in good faith in a community that for the past decade or more has begun to experience racial demographic change, Waring said. The developer has gone beyond what’s required and committed to building affordable housing in the development as well, he said. What’s happening is a continuation of change that has been occurring for at least a decade, Waring said. Residents who may not have attended the neighborhood’s regular monthly meetings to get ongoing information may be unaware of the current shift, but that’s only because they didn’t attend the meetings, he said.

Moreover, alarms that residents will be displaced and that homeowners’ taxes will dramatically increase are unfounded, he added. Only two of the 20 or so residents of the trailer park have not yet found alternative housing. No deadline for them to vacate the property has been set and that likely won’t be set for months to come, Waring said. The fear of rising taxes that will drive out current property owners is unrealistic, he said, because state law prohibits increases of more than 15 percent at tax reassessment which happens about every five years.

Still, on Monday Ford said, “In a few years, West Ashley will be a (housing) gold mine. If developers have their way, this will be the end for people in Maryville and Ashleyville.”

Maryville/Ashleyville Residents Association President Diane Hamilton said concerns about higher taxes and displacement are legitimate, but conscientious efforts are being taken to protect residents and their properties. She feels the issue is being exploited. As housing on the peninsula becomes more unaffordable people will look more and more to areas like Maryville/Ashleyville. Fortunately, city officials have begun to provide low and moderate income affordable housing options.

Councilman James Lewis, who represents parts of Ashleyville and Maryville, has scheduled a public listening session 11 am on  June 24 at the old Albemarle School building at Sycamore Avenue and Magnolia Road.

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