Charleston cruise ship terminal opponents prepare for next fight

  • Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012 12:19 a.m., Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2012 12:56 p.m.
David Burt, a principal with LS3P, presents details Wednesday on the proposed cruise terminal to the Board of Architectural Review. Buy this photo

The plan for a $35 million Charleston cruise ship terminal received final approval from the city’s Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday, but additional challenges for the project lay ahead.

With the ink still drying on the board’s decision, opponents were readying for an Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management hearing next week, regarding a permit the State Ports Authority needs in order to drive pilings at the cruise ship terminal site.

The terminal would be created from an existing warehouse on the authority’s Union Pier, near Laurens Street on the east side of the peninsula. Several neighborhood, historic and environmental groups oppose the location, and other aspects of the cruise ship business.

Board of Architectural Review member R. Christian Schmitt said he believes the public will embrace the new cruise ship terminal “once they have the vision to understand what it is.”

Schmitt, who made the motion to grant final approval for the plan, said it’s appropriate that the SPA is renovating a “nasty old warehouse” rather than constructing a new building, because old warehouses are part of the city’s history.

The Preservation Society of Charleston had called for a new, grand cruise terminal, and the society’s Robert Gurley told board members Wednesday that the whole process has been disappointing.

The Preservation Society — along with the Coastal Conservation League, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association and Charlestowne Neighborhood Association — sued Carnival Cruise Lines in June.

In the still-pending suit, the groups seek to block Carnival’s use of Union Pier, where the current cruise terminal is located and where the new cruise terminal is planned.

The city and the ports authority have stepped in to take Carnival’s side in the litigation.

The Board of Architectural Review regulates the appearance of buildings, not their location or use, so its process has been a small part of the larger controversy over the terminal. The board directed the State Ports Authority’s architects to make a number of changes during a series of meetings that began in August.

The lengthy review process played a role in pushing back the completion date for the new terminal by nine months, and ended Wednesday with a 3-0 Board of Architectural Review vote. Members Craig Bennett and Phyllis Ewing had recused themselves, and member Erika Harrison was absent.

Mayor Joe Riley spoke at the meeting, telling the board, “I believe that what we really now have is a fine building that graces the city.”

Debbie Scott, a member of the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association board, had an opposing view, and told the Board of Architectural Review that more attention needs to be paid to what taxpaying residents want, versus visiting tourists.

The terminal would replace an aging passenger terminal located farther south on Union Pier, near the foot of Market Street. The new terminal location — currently an industrial-looking area surrounded by barbed-wire fence — was previously used for cargo ships.

Opponents of the cruise terminal plan believe the SPA’s need for a permit — in order to set five pilings that would support the new terminal’s elevator and escalators — is an opportunity to challenge the broader impacts of project, such as noise and traffic.

“Having to get a permit for the pilings completely changes the landscape,” said Coastal Conservation League director Dana Beach. “We can open the whole project up to scrutiny.”

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