Site preparation and tree removal for the "gathering place" development on Maybank Highway got at least a brief reprieve this week when work crews were rescheduled for Jan. 6. That break should be used by Charleston City Hall to reconsider a controversial development that is too large and intrusive for its location.
The areas of concern include the density of the development, the height of the four-story apartment structure as well as the accompanying six-level parking garage, the proximity of the development to the street, and the volume of traffic that the development would generate on an already congested highway.
The "gathering place" zoning was designed to accommodate the city's next wave of growth, featuring dense residential and commercial development, and encouraging pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit use at in-fill locations.
So why does this 280-apartment complex require James Island's first parking garage?
Island residents continue to oppose the development, most recently at an early morning protest on the day after Christmas. Though there have been meetings on the project, they have failed to capture public support for it.
The ongoing opposition is at odds with the city's goal in its planning guide "The Century V Plan" to ensure that in-fill developments have the support of their neighbors.
According to the city plan, in-fill development "can help repair or complete existing neighborhoods."
But this project is reasonably viewed as out of place and out of scale with the surrounding area. Existing residential neighborhoods near the "gathering place" are largely comprised of single-family dwellings, with the exception of a few comparatively modest two-story apartment buildings.
Meanwhile, the "gathering place" apartment building and its parking garage would loom over the adjacent Methodist Church on Maybank Highway.
There is no more neighborhood support for the Maybank project than there is for the proposed Johns Island "gathering place" near the Angel Oak.
Public opinion eventually put the brakes on a portion of the Johns Island project, and there is strong sentiment to end it altogether. But it's been a difficult and costly endeavor to halt.
City Council should put a hold on the Maybank project to see what can be done to bring James Island residents on board - as its own planning document recommends.
At the least, preserving more trees along Maybank Highway in a broader buffer would obscure a development so out of scale with the surrounding area.
The large retirement center of Bishop Gadsden, for example, is unobtrusive at its Camp Road location because of its broad buffer.
Additional review of this "gathering place" by the city is essential, considering that the 5.5-acre project would be only the first increment of a 22-acre development.
The first phase will set the tone for the remainder of the project.
So far, island residents don't like what's developing along Maybank Highway.
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