More than 100 James Island residents turned out Tuesday to hear more details about how the city of Charleston's plans to create a gathering place near Folly Road and Maybank Highway led to the clear cutting of hundreds of trees.

The meeting, called "Honor Maybank Forest," was held inside the Bethany United Methodist Church, right next door to where landscape crews have cleared five acres for a new apartment complex.

That clearing has triggered public protests and concern that the city's new "Gathering Place" zoning would lead to incompatible development.

Tim Keane, director of Charleston's Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Department, said the city's plan aims to limit growth in currently rural areas and instead promote mixed use and denser development in certain key areas. He noted the zoning category of "Gathering Place" was suggested by a resident who didn't like the more technical talk of urban nodes and centers.

"I hate that we use that name," he said. "People think about people hanging out, causing trouble."

Cathryn Zommer, who helped organize an earlier protest against the cutting, said the meeting was designed to bring the community together to speak, ask questions and learn more about what's next.

"It's hard, painful for many of us to see the changes that are coming," she said.

Several residents spoke first and complained about the "Gathering Place" zoning and how the apartment project came to be - and to encourage people to take a more active role in scrutinizing new development.

"The gathering place was sold to us with a plan with all this green right next to it," James Island resident George Tempel said. "Folks, that all has the potential to be developed."

James Island resident Pat Welch said he doubted there was much the crowd could do about the apartment project, which he called an ill-conceived concept.

"In my opinion, it is a done deal," he said. "We have to make a lot more noise and get a lot more involved."

Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey said he had called city planners when the apartment complex was first proposed. "People don't want this," he said. "This is not our plan, this is their plan, and they do it with impunity."

City Councilman Dudley Gregorie said he hoped there would be similar gatherings to the one Tuesday night, "There is an opportunity here to make sure what you want is realized," he said. "We have to make sure that whatever is built, we have some say so in softening the blow."

Keane said the gathering place zoning isn't the only type of zoning that allows dense, mixed-use developments and that the apartment developer was encouraged to lower building heights on Maybank Highway and preserve the site's best trees.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.