As a historian of American Material Culture and frequent visitor to your city, I'd like to share my strong disapproval of the proposed plans for the Cainhoy Plantation tract as presently shown on the city's website (http://www.charleston-sc.gov/index.aspx?nid=1095).
Having worked as an independent architectural consultant with a number of planning firms, my objection is not to the idea that the land will be developed, but rather that the manner proposed by the developer is economically unsound, ecologically insensitive, and will provide little of value to the city.
When weighed against the loss of the shared cultural resources this development would entail, it becomes clear that the project is a poor fit for existing and future residents.
I encourage city residents to urge council and the planning commission to do the following: use their power to stop the review process, encourage a series of community-based charrettes so that the needs of all stakeholders can be heard, and work to develop a plan that reflects a balance between the city's desire for growth, the fiscal health of its residents, and the cultural heritage which makes Charleston such an incredible place to visit and live.
Economically, there are a number of red flags the project should raise for the city and for residents. The most glaring to my mind, is that the principal entity is asking for subsidies from the city, but has chosen to incorporate in Delaware. The company should be able to provide an audited account of any tax benefits it receives from Delaware so that Charleston residents can decide - with full knowledge of the company's finances - the extent to which they wish to subsidize this venture.
Secondly, and more importantly, this type of development (mainly single-family homes on free-standing lots) has been proven in numerous studies to be a drain on municipalities. (See for instance the 1992 N.Y.-N.J. Highlands Regional Study, U.S. Department of Agriculture.)
In effect, although the presence of properties subject to local taxes seems to increase the city's coffers initially, this type of development when looked at over a 20 year period, winds up costing municipalities more than two dollars for every dollar it brings in. (Farmland, by contrast, costs about 25 cents for each dollar generated.)
Equally worrying to me is that in published statements, DesignWorks principal Scott Parker has championed suburban development in his prior works.
As he told the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment in 2006: "Everyone talks about neo-traditional towns. At DesignWorks we talk about neo-traditional suburbs."
Yet, the idea of a neo-traditional suburb is simply ludicrous. To be certain, there are charming streetcar suburbs, but these are much more densely built than the present plan, and reflected an earlier economic period in which most households could survive on a single income and single automobile.
Mr. Parker's concept, though lightly sprinkled with the language of New Urbanism, is simply suburban sprawl that will ultimately prove a drain on the community's resources.
In addition to the historical and economic loss this plan entails, I see no reasonable way that the planners expect this not to exacerbate traffic.
With a net density of 2.1 units per acre the plan falls well below established minimums that would make any sort of public transportation feasible, and thus will increase vehicle miles traveled throughout the area.
This will add costs to road maintenance, and also has associated environmental and health care costs.
Simply put, this is a poorly conceived plan that asks a lot from the residents and provides nothing of value in return.
Surely an opportunity of this magnitude can be better imagined.
Jonathan Clancy, Ph.D., is director of the American Fine and Decorative Arts Program at Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York City.
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