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Charles Pearson

Charleston: 2nd Town of James Island Dissolved

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Thursday, January 06, 2005 12:00 AM

It's official, town of James Island gives up the ghost

2nd adventure into incorporation ends symbolically with Town Hall about to become a pizza joint

BY JASON HARDIN

Of The Post and Courier Staff

The town of James Island already met its legal end last year. The symbolic end came Wednesday when Mayor Mary Clark removed the flag from a Town Hall that is about to become a pizza parlor.

It was a day for last rites. Clark and her husband rolled up the flag and worked on clearing out of the shopping center storefront that had housed the town's government since it was born in 2002.

"It's a poignant moment," she said. "I knew this could happen. I hoped it wouldn't."

Clark's act finally lowered the curtain on the second version of the town of James Island, which met its demise when the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that the town formed under an unconstitutional law.

While the town officially ceased to exist last year, there were still plenty of loose ends to tie up. Records had to be filed and stored, town funds had to be dispersed and floors had to be swept and cleaned.

One of the town's two employees has been assisting with the transition, and the other hopes to find work with another local government.

Inside the former Town Hall, almost everything was gone Wednesday. About the only items that remained were some cleaning tools, a fax machine without paper and a leased copier whose owner has yet to retrieve it.

"They're going to have to come and get it or whatever," Clark said.

The narrow space looks strangely smaller without desks and furnishings. Their absence reveals a floor scuffed and stained by use and time.

The section of the Camp Road strip mall has been home to enterprises ranging from a beauty parlor to a dog grooming business. Clark, who now calls herself "the only mayor-in-exile in America," said a pizza place will be the next to call it home.

Some residents say they are still feeling the loss of their town.

"I have had a sinking feeling in my stomach since that day. It is a sickening feeling," said Joe Qualey, who served as a town councilman. "The closing of the town represents one of the saddest eras in Lowcountry history."

The Town Hall still conjures up memories. Qualey said fellow residents wept on his shoulder at the last meeting there.

Despite what happened to the town, he and others have hopes that it can be resurrected.

Town backers are pushing for the General Assembly to pass a bill that would remove legal obstacles to the town's rebirth.

The city of Charleston, however, is certain to oppose any effort to allow the town to come back. The city, which wants to be able to expand its borders on the island, successfully sued to dissolve the town both times it was created. The first version of the town perished in 1996.Clark, who frequently has worn a red shirt in protest of the town's fate, said she plans to continue fighting for the town. She looks forward to the task.

"Being the mayor of the town was never as interesting as fighting for it," she said. "I've got to fight as long as there's a fight to be had."

For now, she plans to work on that out of her home. She's also got a few other chores to tend to, such as watering the array of plants that once decorated the Town Hall.

They're now in storage, a few storefronts away in the same shopping center. Clark paused for just a second as she considered the plants, lined up neatly in pots by the window.

"It was quite beautiful," she said.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF JAMES ISLAND

DECEMBER 1992 -- By a 52-48 margin, voters in most of James Island's unincorporated area agree to form a new town. The city of Charleston and three residents file suit against the James Island Election Commission, which held the special election.

MARCH 1993 -- Town voters pick Joan Sooy as their first mayor. The town has about 18,000 residents and is the state's 18th-largest municipality. Charleston County and the James Island Public Service District still provide most services for the area.

OCTOBER 1995 -- A circuit judge rules that the town was incorporated illegally by crossing over marshes and waterways already claimed by the city, but he allows it to stay in business while the case is appealed.

NOV. 18, 1996 -- The S.C. Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling and orders the town dissolved.

APRIL 2000 -- The General Assembly passes a bill that would let a new town of James Island cross over waterways and marshes already claimed by Charleston, addressing the legal problem with the first town. The movement to create a new town soon gathers momentum.

MAY 21, 2002 -- Voters choose to form a new town by a more than 2-1 margin. The vote creates the second town of James Island.

JUNE 18, 2002 -- Voters elect Mary Clark as the new town's first mayor.

JULY 24, 2002 -- The city of Charleston and two James Island residents sue the town.

FEB. 7, 2003 -- Circuit judge rules the law that allowed the second town to incorporate was unconstitutional special legislation that did not generally apply statewide.

JULY 26, 2004 -- S.C. Supreme court upholds lower court ruling, ending the second town.

JANUARY 2005 -- Clark clears out the second town's Town Hall, saying she will continue to work for a third town.

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I disagree, that area should be incorporated into the City of Charleston and police fire and utility services should be handled by the City. This would stop duplication of services and James Island fire engines going past City firehouses to calls. Thats my 2 cents.

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I disagree, that area should be incorporated into the City of Charleston and police  fire and utility services should be handled by the City. This would stop duplication of services and James Island fire engines going past City firehouses to calls. Thats my 2 cents.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree completely. The map itself shows how ridiculous it was for this town to ever form. To be able to drive down a short residential street (not just a major throughfare) and weave in and out of two different cities two or threee times each is just crazy. How can services possible be provided with any efficiency.

Plus, if a city cannot annex an area unless it is contiguous, how can a city incorporate numerous non-contiguous areas?

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I disagree, that area should be incorporated into the City of Charleston and police  fire and utility services should be handled by the City. This would stop duplication of services and James Island fire engines going past City firehouses to calls. Thats my 2 cents.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Well, I have changed my mind about this. After seeing where the first Town of James Island was, and after seeing where the City limits of Charleston are, I agree with Charleston, and firemick. James Island doesn't need to exist

Plus, if a city cannot annex an area unless it is contiguous, how can a city incorporate numerous non-contiguous areas?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Small strips of land down the centers of road ways. Cities like Greer and Rock Hill are famous for it. Columbia does it too. Its a fairly commmon practice in SC.

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Well, I have changed my mind about this. After seeing where the first Town of James Island was, and after seeing where the City limits of Charleston are, I agree with Charleston, and firemick. James Island doesn't need to exist

Small strips of land down the centers of road ways. Cities like Greer and Rock Hill are famous for it. Columbia does it too. Its a fairly commmon practice in SC.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I am familiar with shoestring annexation, I lived in Columbia when they used a 5 inch strip of land along the Broad River to annex Columbiana Center mall.

But remember, the areas that are on James Island, but are NOT in orange on the above map, were already in the CITY LIMITS of Charleston. How could those non-contiguous areas be incorporated into a single city?

It was on that basis that the first town of James Island was nullified. A law was passed to allow two cities to "share waterways and marshes", thus enabling a sort-of contiguous situation. But when that law was struck down, the town was nullified a second time.

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They really should show the city limits of Charleston to illustrate that. When I first read this article I didn't know that Charleston's city limits extended that far. I have since looked at a map of the City of Charleston, and that is clear to me now. The first town of James Island looked nothing like that orange one shown above. I have its boundaries on a paper map, so I can't show it too you. I can tell you it looked a bit more legitimate to me.

I'd say James Island is a lost cause unless you could convice all of those people to seceed from Charleston and then reform as James Island.

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They really should show the city limits of Charleston to illustrate that. When I first read this article I didn't know that Charleston's city limits extended that far. I have since looked at a map of the City of Charleston, and that is clear to me now. The first town of James Island looked nothing like that orange one shown above. I have its boundaries on a paper map, so I can't show it too you. I can tell you it looked a bit more legitimate to me.

I'd say James Island is a lost cause unless you could convice all of those people to seceed from Charleston and then reform as James Island.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Between the time the FIRST town of James Island was nullified and the time the SECOND town of James Island was nullified, Charleston did annex a significant amount of land. However even the first town looked like a paint splattered against a wall.

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