A small lot on Calhoun Street holds big meaning for people who live in peninsular Charleston. In some ways, it epitomizes the increasing tension between the quality of life for residents and the push for commercial development.
Developers sometimes complain about the hurdles they must clear in order to build in downtown Charleston. Conversely, residents feel those developers usually get their way, often over neighbors' objections.
But just recently that wasn't the case. With plenty of concerned neighbors in attendance, both the city's Board of Architectural Review and Board of Zoning Appeals sent the would-be developer of an office building at 80 Calhoun St. back to the drawing board.
The BAR's main objection seemed to be the same as the neighbors': The building is too large for the small lot.
And the BZA found that the developer's plans for providing off-site parking fell short. As in most neighborhoods downtown, parking in Mazyck Wraggborough is at a premium.
That doesn't mean the developer won't make adjustments and try again. But it does affirm the neighbors' opinions, and it demonstrates that neighbors often have perspectives that are important to consider. They live there and see first-hand the traffic and parking. They hear the noise and smell the smells.
Even when they don't win the war, they can make a difference in battle - a change here, an adjustment there that make the project better for all involved.
The city of Charleston acted wisely years ago when it promoted the formation of neighborhood groups, and its governing bodies are wise to take them seriously.
And while some ordinances need to be revisited, those governing bodies would be wise to adhere to the ordinances (realizing some exceptions need to be considered when dealing with historic buildings). For example, allow variances only when the developer can show that the pertinent ordinance would effectively prohibit or unreasonably restrict use of the property. Maybe he should decrease the size of the building, or provide more parking on-site.
Residents and businesses shouldn't continually be at loggerheads. They should be able to co-exist as good neighbors.