By Danielle Seat | April 20, 2020 at 6:56 AM EDT - Updated April 20 at 7:23 AM
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston now has dozens of backlogged applications for rezonings and design reviews that cannot move forward until they are heard at a public hearing.
But social distancing rules are preventing the city from being able to hold public hearings where people can make public comments.
City leaders formally closed down all public hearings on March 23. The lack of public hearings means there are currently at least 70 backlogged applications, and normally there are none. Applications to build things like affordable housing complexes are now just being put on hold.
But it’s getting to the point city officials say they are worried about catching up because the number of applications is increasing every week.
“Any time a project is held up in the process it certainly can put a strain on the people who are working on that project,” Charleston Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Jacob Lindsey said. “And we want to make sure that we are offering great service to the applicants in addition to the many citizens who do participate in our processes. It has to be fair as we go forward, and we are concerned about the ticking clock.”
There are normally three to four meetings every week that hear at least a couple applications in each meeting. And city officials say the number of applications has stayed fairly consistent, but about 20 meetings have been cancelled.
The City of Charleston is looking into making the meetings virtual, but with that they encounter the issue of some not having internet access. So they are also looking at using large rooms or holding meetings outside where the social distancing rules can be applied.
“When we hold a public meeting anyone can come and speak,” Lindsey said. “And if we hold virtual meetings the same thing need to be true that all citizens who are interested in the project can have their opinion heard and voice their concerns. But we have to make sure that the virtual meetings allow citizens to participate as good as they could in person, if not better. And that’s the major hurdle we have to cross.”
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