JAMES ISLAND - Tree-cutting to make way for a new 280-unit apartment complex and six-level garage on Maybank Highway began Thursday.

Mike Schwarz, of Woodfield Developments, which is in charge of the site, said the tree-clearing began in advance of trucks coming in Monday to begin taking the debris out.

He expected the cutting to take two or three days, depending on the weather. He did not have a count of how many trees will be taken from the 5-acre site but said "it's not clear-cutting." Trees that will be kept are being protected by fencing, he said.

The ground work should take about two months before the apartments start to take shape, he said.

The project has drawn complaints and an organized protest from area neighborhood residents who say it will affect wildlife and add hundreds more cars a day to an already busy road system.

The site is adjacent to Bethany United Methodist Church and behind the James Island Shopping Center. It is the first major effort built under Charleston's Gathering Place zoning category. The relatively new classification is designed to encourage more pedestrian, bicycling and public transit by allowing a denser mix of homes, shops and offices in certain centrally located suburban areas.

All construction work on the project is expected to be completed by July 2015.