When the site clearance for the Maybank Highway "gathering place" was delayed last week, there was hope that wiser heads at Charleston City Hall would take the opportunity to require a reappraisal of the ill-advised James Island project. Too bad, the heavy equipment was put to work on Thursday, four days ahead of the last announced date to start site preparation.

But there's still time to refine plans for the 280-apartment complex, which includes a six-story parking garage and an inadequate buffer along Maybank Highway. All it will take is for the city to recognize the degree to which public sentiment is opposed to this out-of-place development.

City Council might not be directly involved in the process at this point, but that's no reason for our elected officials to avoid the controversy. They shouldn't throw up their hands and declare that nothing can be done at this late date. To the contrary, now is the time for council members to intervene in the controversy, and see what can be done to resolve it.

This can't be what council had in mind when it gave the stamp of approval to the "gathering place" concept.

A good place to start would be to review the column by city planner Tim Keane, which was published on our Commentary page Tuesday and can be taken as the city's official position on the project.

Mr. Keane, director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, contends that those who criticize the project as being out of character are operating on the incorrect assumption that James Island is still "a rustic, farming community."

Since most of the opponents live on the island, it's safe to say that they are fully aware that James Island is largely suburban. And they object to this project as being out of scale with the island's existing character, not some nostalgic view of James Island in the 1930s.

Further, the critics recognize that the traffic that will accompany this dense residential development will clog up already congested Maybank Highway to the point of immobility on that part of James Island.

As to Mr. Keane's promise of a more scenic Maybank Highway lined with trees, you have to wonder how long that might take after the "gathering place" gets a going over with a "tree grabber" or chain saws.

Mr. Keane wrote that the "gathering place" project "will be the nicest apartments anywhere."

You'd be hard pressed to find James Islanders who would agree with that assessment, just like you'd have a hard time finding happy advocates of the half-aborted Johns Island "gathering place" project by the Angel Oak.

The James Island project will be built on 5.5 acres. But the whole tract is some 22 acres.

That's why a review is needed now, not after this overly large project is built and the next phase begins.

Let's gather together and come up with a better plan.