The proposal to tear down the Sergeant Jasper apartment building next to Colonial Lake in downtown Charleston isn’t only dividing some parts of the community. It’s also threatening to bring a dose of static into the cellphone coverage for a portion of the lower peninsula.
Tucked on top of the 14-story building are towers for local phone service providers, including AT&T and T-Mobile. There’s also a VHS antenna for the marine assistance service Tow Boat US. For now, city officials and representatives for the companies aren’t overly concerned about leaving a dead zone since design plans from the Beach Co., which owns the building, are still in the works. But officials realize that communications in the lower peninsula need to be ensured, given the number of residents, students, tourists and drivers who live in or pass through that corner of the city.
“The City of Charleston’s position is we think cell tower coverage is important,” said Lee Batchelder, zoning administrator for the city.
One hurdle for some providers is finding an alternative that reaches to around 140 feet in the air.
Representatives of AT&T and T-Mobile this week said the change is not an overwhelming concern at the present. Both companies are waiting to see what design and architectural features are in store.
Steve Little, captain with Tow Boat US in Charleston, said he has made arrangements for an alternative, adding that height is always preferable.
“The higher I am, the farther I can reach,” he said. He called the potential loss of the building space “not a big deal to me” because there are other options.
The Beach Co., which owns the 1950s-era Sergeant Jasper, earlier this year announced plans to redevelop the area surrounding the building and the property it owns adjacent to Broad Street and Lockwood Boulevard. The effort has since been put on hold, Beach Development Vice President Kent Johnson said, while the company takes time to better define what the project will look like. Some residents and preservation groups want to see a more specific and definite plan of what the company has in mind.
Earlier ideas focused on a mix of four- and six-story apartments and businesses that would cover much of the Broad Street-Lockwood Boulevard footprint, including across Barre Street and into the adjacent vacant lot known as St. Mary’s Field.
Currently, up to 300 people live inside the 221 units of the building, including students, professionals and retirees. No timetable on the project moving forward has been set and there are still zoning issues to iron out.
In relation to the cell towers, Robert Gurley, director of advocacy with the Preservation Society of Charleston, said the group realizes the need for cell coverage downtown but that any replacement site choices should be considered on a case-by-case basis.