MOUNT PLEASANT - A rising tide of angry residents tried for a second time Tuesday to block a 55-foot parking garage and office building on Shem Creek that they fear will damage the area's quaint charm.
However, only one town council member voted to rescind the parking licensing agreement with Tex Small, developer of The Shops at Oakland. Under the already approved agreement, Small will build the offices and garage, and the town will pitch in tax dollars to ensure public use of its parking spaces on nights and weekends.
An often tense public hearing drew roughly 70 residents who stood when asked if they oppose the building. Many of those who spoke said the building will be too large and out of character for the creek renowned for its shrimp boats, restaurants and water views.
"As a child, I played and fished and swam in Shem Creek," resident Jimmy Bagwell said. "Shem Creek is, in my opinion, one of the most wonderful places in America."
The dispute underscores tension in this picturesque town between preserving the ambiance of Shem Creek and Coleman Boulevard while handling growth and attracting economic activity.
An online petition to rescind the agreement garnered nearly 2,000 signatures. The building "will eliminate the preservation of the pristine beauty of this historic area by adding a 55-foot structure, which minimizes the character of our humble community," reads the petition on change.org.
The lot, at the corner of Mill Street and Coleman Boulevard, is now vacant.
As of now, the building's top two floors would feature commercial office space with views overlooking Shem Creek and Coleman. A parking garage on the lower levels would offer tenants about 276 parking spaces.
However, those spaces would be open to public use on nights and weekends during Shem Creek's peak restaurant and bar hours. In return, the town would pay the project $185,000 a year in hotel taxes for 15 years, or nearly $2.8 million total. It would receive back fees paid by drivers to use the building.
Town officials approached Small to work together to keep the town from spending millions more to build an entire public garage that the town would have to pay to staff and maintain, Councilman Ken Glasson said.
Mayor Linda Page noted that town council members have not seen formal building plans.
Councilman Gary Santos has led opposition and moved to rescind the financial agreement.
"It will ruin the character of Coleman Boulevard," Santos said.
He also raised the issue at last month's town council meeting, but his motion failed to garner a second and no discussion was held.
"It's the first place that visitors to Mount Pleasant go. It's the experience they've heard of and want to see," resident Jayroe Wurst said. "It is beautiful - and apparently it's future is precarious."
Small said the building is an approved use of the private property, and he would move forward with or without a partnership with the town.
"We will build an office building there. If we do not have public parking, it will be private parking," Small said.
Construction may begin by summer's end. Small said it could open in late spring or early summer 2015.
Glasson said that council members, Small and interested residents likely will meet to discuss the plan "and see if there is a happy medium."
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.
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