City could buy old rail line, convert it to pedestrian path, greenspace, low-cost housing

Lowcountry Lowline Project (WCIV)

The City of Charleston soon could purchase an abandoned railroad property that runs through the heart of the peninsula, and partner with a local advocacy group to turn it into greenspace, a pedestrian path and affordable housing.

City Council members in a real estate committee meeting Monday afternoon discussed a purchasing proposal for a railroad right-of-way and adjacent properties currently owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad.

Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline (FLLL), a group that has spearheaded an initiative to revitalize the rail corridor, has secured the rights to purchase the property, but is counting on the city's help to do so.

FLLL's proposal to the city Monday called for taxpayers footing half of the roughly $5 million anticipated cost for the project, with the other half coming from private business and developer investments, plus fundraising donations secured by the FLLL.

The now out-of-service rail line at the heart of the project is about 1.6 miles long, and stretches from Cortland Street to Woolfe Street along and beneath the I-26 ramp.

FLLL wants to see the rail line revitalized and repurposed into a linear park and greenspace with a walking and biking path.

The larger goal, the group says, is to reconnect areas of the city split by I-26, and the old rail line itself.

Councilman Mike Seekings said tax payers should be excited, and hopes his colleagues will vote in favor of the city buying the 10-plus acres of land.

“(It's a) really exciting transaction that's going to have huge benefits to the city,” Seekings said.

Mayor John Tecklenburg agrees, telling the Post and Courier the decision is a "no-brainer."

However, Councilman Keith Waring questioned Monday if acquiring this property should come ahead of other projects. He specifically was concerned with fixing flooding issues in downtown Charleston first.

“The events that we've had in 2015, 2016, and most recently in (2017), flooding has to be pushed up to the top of the agenda,” Waring said.

Flooding is an issue Seekings says the City could help alleviate by controlling the property.

“We can then use below it for drainage relief. We will then have access for anything we design in terms of drainage through that park,” Seekings says.

The proposal in addition to redeveloping the rail line also calls for buiilding affordable housing on another section of railroad property along the east side of King Street, seekings says.

While on the fence about the project, Waring agrees establishing more affordable housing needs to be at the forefront of city leaders' minds when making a decision.

“Affordable housing is a must, and it's something that's going to always be needed in the City of Charleston,” said Waring.

Seekings says the purchase also would include 1.68 acres on Mount Pleasant Street that would be made into a transit hub.

If the proposal is approved, the land would be purchased in a three-part transaction, Seekings says.

City Council is scheduled to discuss the project during itsTuesday, October 10 meeting at City Hall, where it could vote on whether or not to move forward the project as currently proposed.

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