It was time for the citizens of West Ashley to make their voices heard at Tuesday’s meeting of Charleston City Council. Removed from their usual meeting location in downtown Charleston, city officials met before passionate West Ashley residents who packed Founders Hall to speak out against a proposed gas station to be built on the site of a former Piggly Wiggly.
Located near the split of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Old Towne Road, the former grocery store has sat vacant for years. Development company Faison Enterprises hopes to construct a gas station on the site, but many West Ashley residents oppose the plan.
“That is the gateway to West Ashley,” said former City Councilman Aubry Alexander. “To drive in, we already see the backside of the Piggly Wiggly, but to drive in and see the backside of a gas station, even beautifully landscaped and with a lot of lipstick, in my mind is still a gas station. This site deserves something better.”
Mayor John Tecklenburg, who has made the revitalization of West Ashley a main focus since taking office, said he opposes the current plan for the gas station and called on residents to continue to voice their concerns as the proposed development goes through the city’s approval process.
“I think we get the big picture about the need for planning. Now, here comes an isolated development plan for a property and the zoning is in place that allows it, so it really does create some difficulty,” he said. “People have property rights, and if the property is zoned, they should be able to do what is allowed. That being said, our staff and this mayor does not support the plan for another convenience store or gas station on that site. We’ve asked Faison, respectfully, to consider other uses, and we will continue to do so.”
One by one, residents stood before City Council Tuesday to discuss the plans for the former Piggly Wiggly site. During a fiery speech, Councilman Bill Moody said that it’s time for West Ashley to be recognized and for the members of the community to start demanding changes on a number of issues, ranging from the bike and pedestrian lane on the Legare Bridge to the reconstruction of the ailing Stono Park Elementary School.
“Here’s what I see west of the Ashley, right now. They talk about this lane for pedestrians and bikes, and rather than us getting a Ravenel Bridge or a separate lane or whatever with all the millions that were spent on that, we’re told in West Ashley, “Just take the daggum lane over here. We’re going to give you a piecemeal something. Just shut up,’” he said. “It’s the same exact thing that happened at Stono Park Elementary School that we’re fighting. We were promised a new school there, and now, what do we get? Here’s $9 million [for repairs], and that school, if any of you lived in a house that had those conditions, you’d be totally upset. ... And West Ashley said, ‘OK, if that’s all we can get, fine.’ Same thing with this gas station.”
Moody added, “Why don’t we demand excellence rather than accept this mediocrity or just nothing and sit here fat and sassy and complacent. I say we’ve got to get upset.”