Here's a hint for anyone thinking about building an apartment complex with shops on Maybank Highway:
If you need a six-deck parking garage to make it work, you might be thinking too big.
But that's exactly what Woodfield Investments dumped on the city's Design Review Board last week. The developer wants to slap a 316-unit, four-story complex on 22 acres behind the Piggly Wiggly at Maybank and Folly Road.
Which is one of the busiest intersections on an already over-crowded James Island.
As you might imagine, islanders are none too happy about the idea of 55-foot buildings towering over the street. This is Maybank, not Manhattan.
Not only would this be an eyesore, it would pump hundreds more cars onto the highway every day, which really isn't the idea behind the controversial “gathering place” zoning.
Luckily, the Design Review Board has put the brakes on this plan — for now.
Out of scale
It's been about a decade since the lot behind the Pig was zoned for “gathering place.”
That's a fancy name for high-density, mixed-use development. Basically, you have housing and stores in one spot. The idea is to create an urban center where folks can walk to shops or run errands, cutting down on traffic.
Sorry, but a six-story parking deck anchoring the development doesn't exactly scream traffic abatement. Come on, the airport's garage isn't that big.
Even conservationists, who generally support the “gathering place” concept, showed up Thursday to protest.
“If we're going to have this, we need a good plan in place,” says Katie Zimmerman of the Coastal Conservation League. “Let's make sure everything is in the appropriate scale. It's an important precedent to set.”
Yes it is. And you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone on the island who doesn't think this thing is just way too big.
That's your precedent right there.
Design Review Board staff members had plenty to say about this idea. They chastised the developer for not communicating with them enough before submitting this plan, and said the overall height here is out of character.
They said this thing needs more study, and the board went along with that. For the developer, that was better than being told no, but it was a warning.
James Islanders are not unreasonable. The folks who showed up Thursday night are not anti-development, they are just opposed to something so big. A grand total of 316 apartments, some of which would have three bedrooms, would probably add at least 400 cars a day to Maybank Highway.
It's already a pain to get through the light at Maybank and Folly. If they build this, it's going to be hard just to get in line to miss the light.
The developers need to scale this back significantly, and the Design Review Board needs to stick to its resolve and make sure they do.
If they need any inspiration, just let 'em drive Maybank at rush hour.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.