Local residents have been outspoken in their opposition to three "gathering place" proposals for James and Johns islands and, as a result, the city has abandoned one project on Johns Island and is prepared to do the same for another on James Island, at Folly Road and Riverland Drive.
Those decisions should encourage opponents of the "gathering place" at Maybank Highway to continue efforts for substantive changes on that 22-acre site. Even if it's too late to halt the ongoing development of 5.5 acres for an apartment complex and parking garage, there should be time for revisions to the remainder of the site.
"Gathering place" zoning provides for a dense, multi-use development out of character with the surrounding area.
Objections to the plan have continued unabated since residents became aware of exactly what it would mean for traffic congestion and the scenic landscape. Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey probably spoke for most of the critics when he described it as "the poster boy of bad planning."
Councilman Qualey held a meeting last week on the James Island projects at the local town hall, attended by some 125 residents, all of whom apparently opposed the plans. Tim Keane, the city's director of planning, preservation and sustainability, explained the concept and heard the complaints.
And Mr. Keane told us Friday that the city is now prepared to recommend a zoning change for the Folly/Riverland project, planned at an old shopping center adjacent the southeast corner of the intersection.
It's not certain yet what will be recommended, but Mr. Keane says it won't have a comparable density.
Clearly, that's the right response to public complaints about a site along an already congested highway. That portion of Folly Road experiences major tie-ups with summer beach traffic.
Meanwhile, the traffic situation on Maybank Highway similarly should encourage major revisions in that gathering place. Road congestion will increase with the addition of a major apartment complex.
And if more apartments are built on the remaining property - certainly a possibility - traffic will get that much worse.
Residents also object to the removal of scenic roadside trees to accommodate the development, noting that the original plan presented to the public included a tree-lined highway with a substantial buffer to development.
Mr. Keane acknowledges the continuing opposition, saying, "I understand that people don't like apartments, they don't like the density, they don't like the traffic."
But the city feels differently. "We are pleased with the direction of it," he said, adding that the Maybank project is "ideal for what its zoned for."
The city's response to the public opposition will include landscaping and traffic improvements with better bike, pedestrian and transit access, he said.
Those should generally be goals for a livable city, but they won't make up for the shortcomings of the gathering place concept at this site, any more than alterations substantively improved the plans for another dense project initially planned adjacent the Angel Oak on Johns Island.
That proposal was turned around by a grassroots campaign to acquire that the property as a park. Ultimately, even the city got on board.
City Council should make revisions to the Maybank site to limit potential problems there. That shouldn't be a major undertaking since about two-thirds of the site doesn't yet have a plan for its development.
Mr. Qualey said the gathering place idea is strongly opposed by town, city and public service district residents on James Island.
The city has acknowledged the opposition with plans to alter the designation for the Folly Road site.
It should follow up with revisions to the remainder of the Maybank site to forestall problems there.
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