Amendment would make zoning appeals more difficult

A proposed amendment by the City of Charleston's Board of Zoning Appeals has raised the ire of many citizens. Essentially the amendment says that if the appeals board makes a decision you disagree with you may no longer take the issue to City Council but must take it to circuit court.

Understandably, the change could make appeals more difficult for the average Joe who likely does not have ready access to a lawyer.

An e-mail sent to the Save James Island Wetlands from Wal-Mart group made its way to us. It said:
Subject: City of Charleston Seeks to Take Away Due Process - FIGHT!
Unless you can afford an attorney, you will no longer be able to appeal a decision about grand trees, wetlands, or the zoning in your neighborhood.

In the next 48 hours, the City of Charleston will do its best to make it impossible for an ordinary citizen to fight back against the Board of Zoning Appeals. They will try to take away due process.

The BZA is the group that gave Wal-Mart permission to cut down 30 grand trees. It is the group that will vote on whether Angel Oak Development Corporation can cut down 34 grand trees Wednesday night.

Currently, if the BZA made a decision you don't think is fair, you have five days to fight it. You can file an appeal and the case will go to City Council for examination.

The City is trying to take away due process from ordinary people. You will no longer be able to file an appeal and have it heard by City Counsel. You will have to HIRE A LAWYER and have them file an appeal with Circuit Court.

Only the wealthy and developers have lawyers on retainer to file appeals at a moment's notice. This amendment will CRIPPLE poor communities and non-profits who cannot afford lawyers. It will leave us defenseless.

The amendment on tonight's agenda reads:
Request consideration of amendment to Appendix C, Rules and Regulations of the Board of Zoning Appeals to delete provisions allowing appeals of Board decisions concerning use variances to City Council.

If you're concerned you can show up to one of the Board of Zoning Appeals' meetings tonight (August 5) or tomorrow. Both are at 5:15 p.m at 75 Calhoun Street.

Wednesday's meeting was originally to also address a developer's request to remove 34 grand trees from the new Angel Oak Village development on James Island. But the developer delayed the request for permission. It is not clear why, but we suspect the (anticipated) large meeting turnout couldn't have made the company eager.