Mayor Joe Riley and Charleston City Council overruled the city’s own Planning Commission on Tuesday, approving a zoning change that clears the way for a new 462-site residential development on Johns Island.
The rezoning is expected to end a years-old lawsuit where the property owners were claiming millions of dollars in damages if they were not allowed a more lenient zoning category.
The decision was not welcomed by all Johns Island residents, some of whom expressed fears about noise and traffic being added to the mostly rural areas around River and Plow Ground roads.
Other opposition came from those concerned about air accidents, contending that building a mix of residential, retail, warehouse and commercial businesses so close to the Charleston Executive Airport will create a community danger if an aviation mishap occurs.
An assisted living site also is planned.
Last month, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 against a zoning change that would move the property up from the city’s lowest zoning classification — allowing one unit per 11/2 acres — to a more active Planned Unit Development. The group said the 462-acre development as presented was too big and intense for Johns Island to absorb.
The proposal also seemed to run counter to the city’s Urban Growth Boundary, officials said at the time, referring to the line that divides the city’s “urban” and more rural classifications.
But Riley and city Planning Director Tim Keane said at the council meeting that the project remains suited for the site, adding that the mix of homes, commercial and warehouse space will also provide a source of jobs in the area. “It’s a solid and wise plan,” Riley said.
Keane added that the urban growth boundary does not say “no growth” on the Johns Island side of the line, only that what is suggested beyond that line is less than the urban density.
City Council unanimously backed the rezoning, with only Councilman George Mitchell raising a concern about not mandating smaller retail and office space footprints.
Opponents, meanwhile, said the move puts City Hall’s push to develop over the wishes of residents and its own review process.
“I thought that the Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation to deny the rezoning was totally disregarded, and not even discussed,” said River Road resident Steve Green.
The zoning change was requested by a group of area landowners calling themselves the Wooddale Partnership LLC. One of the property owners is Charleston County Councilman Vic Rawl, who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
After the vote he said he was pleased at the outcome and said a lawsuit over the issue should be ending soon.
The lawsuit arose years ago after City Council downgraded the site’s earlier zoning after a developer had publicly discussed building up to 800 homes. The property owners lost the early rounds in court but appealed. The case is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which required the city and the landowners to go into mediation.
The rezoning faces two more readings before becoming formally enacted by the city, which should then put the legal battle to rest.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.