Post and Courier: Tecklenburg’s work on flooding, livability merit 2nd term as Charleston mayor
By The Editorial Staff
October 26, 2019
There was no getting around the fact that whoever succeeded Joe Riley as Charleston’s mayor would have an especially difficult task. That has proven to be true for John Tecklenburg, who has worked to find solutions to problems decades in the making along with emerging ones, while contending with an antagonistic City Council.
Through it all, Mr. Tecklenburg has maintained a steady focus on the existential threat of flooding, reining in hotel development and short-term rentals, untangling traffic and getting more money for affordable housing. Voters should return him to office Nov. 5.
Many of the city’s current projects fall under the category of improving quality of life. This focus on livability was necessary after decades of growth pressure that has only accelerated in recent years.
Mr. Tecklenburg led the effort to formulate a comprehensive plan to address drainage and sea-level rise. He was an early advocate for the prescriptions touted by the Dutch Dialogues, which wisely emphasize finding ways to live with water rather than fight it.
Various neighborhood drainage projects are completed or underway, and the mayor is seeking money from the State Infrastructure Bank for raising the Low Battery sea wall. New stormwater regulations should help limit development in flood-prone areas.
Flooding has been a problem for many years, but it is becoming progressively worse. The Federal Reserve Board recently became the latest group to warn flood-prone regions about the devastating economic costs of failing to act. The expense will be astronomical, which means mining multiple funding sources. Charleston needs Mr. Tecklenburg’s leadership on the issue, and during his second term he must move the city beyond planning to fund near- and long-term projects.
One of Mayor Tecklenburg’s signature accomplishments is the new hotel ordinance, which aims to halt the “hotelification” of the city. This is one of the problems that he inherited, and there still are more than 2,000 additional rooms in the pipeline.
Council opponents turned down several of his earlier proposals, but Mr. Tecklenburg showed great perseverance in finally garnering approval on this key issue. The new regulations from the hotel task force put important restrictions in place and help raise money for affordable housing.
The mayor was also instrumental in prying $10 million for affordable housing out of the original deal to build Charleston Place. As part of the agreement, the Charleston Citywide Local Development Corp. agreed to spend another $9 million. That helped to nearly double the amount of money Charleston voters approved for affordable housing in 2017. That is a complicated issue, but one that needs continued focus from the mayor’s office.
Mayor Tecklenburg has repeatedly involved residents in the city’s decision-making process. He advocated for a resident-led task force to come up with stricter regulations for short-term rentals, which resulted in rules that make it nearly impossible to turn local homes into de facto hotels.
He also used public input to design solutions to improve traffic at some of Charleston’s most problematic intersections, and enlisted the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments to pre-approve those solutions, which has put them in line for state and federal dollars for needed repairs.
While the state and county control the vast majority of the roads in Charleston, Mayor Tecklenburg has done what he could. He supported the county’s half-cent sales tax campaign to generate funding for road improvements, and secured the land for both the northern and southern pitchforks off Maybank Highway — two roads that will lighten traffic at the notorious intersection of Maybank and River Road. Now it is up to the county to build those roads.
Mayor Tecklenburg also set up the commission to revitalize West Ashley and come up with a master plan for improving the city’s largest and most populated area. In a second term, he should see to it that the commission speeds along its work.
The mayor has not been perfect, although council overreached by characterizing some of his mistakes as legal or ethics violations. He has, however, shown the empathy necessary to lead a diverse city. Council should support his ongoing efforts. And the voters should award him a second term.