Jasper project is a ‘Gateway’ to development

The Sgt. Jasper apartment building. (Frank Wooten/Staff)

Are West Ashley residents aware that their City Councilmen, and particularly Bill Moody, Keith Waring and Dean Riegel, are leading the charge on council to promote overdevelopment to the benefit of developers and to the detriment of residents both on the peninsula and West Ashley?

The latest effort is the promotion of a new zoning category called “Gateway Zoning” to accommodate the Beach Company, which wants to change the zoning on its Jasper property from a maximum of 80 units currently allowed to 324 units. It would be located on a flood-prone street leading to the center of downtown.

The city’s Planning Commission, composed of apolitical and dispassionate experts in comprehensive planning, wisely refused last week, by a 5-2 vote, to endorse City Council’s effort to adopt the new zoning classification. As discussed at the Planning Commission hearing, the Gateway zone would specifically apply to a proposed massive Jasper complex at Lockwood Boulevard and Broad Street where the road narrows from two lanes to one and is frequently barricaded by the police due to excessive flooding. All city residents, and particularly those who commute from West Ashley into Charleston for work, school or other appointments, would face additional traffic congestion, particularly along Lockwood Boulevard, which is already a choke point.

As the Planning Commission noted, this hastily drawn plan for “Gateway” overlay zones could be applicable to any so-called gateway in the future. Specifically, if the entrance to the historic residential neighborhoods of the peninsula is a gateway, the same could be proposed for Byrnes Down, Avondale, the Crescent and multiple neighborhoods off Highway 17, Highway 61, Folly Road and indeed any other two-lane road west of the Ashley. The Planning Commission noted that the proposed Gateway zoning did not even contain incentives or requirements for either affordable or work force housing, an omission that suggests Gateway zoning was not intended to address acknowledged shortages in many areas of the City.

Mount Pleasant residents have clearly expressed their anger regarding the Beach Company’s Boulevard complex on Coleman Boulevard by voting out of office council members who supported that project. According to news reports, their displeasure continues against the remaining council members who have not had to face the voters.

Do West Ashley residents really want their council members to support zoning changes allowing complexes similar to the Boulevard or the proposed Jasper at the entry to their neighborhoods? Do they want hundreds of small apartments and a large commercial component at the gateway to their neighborhoods on their already overly congested major road arteries?

Councilmen Waring and Moody, both former chairmen of the Chamber of Commerce, have recently made clear that business interests take priority over the concerns of residents.

At the June 21 City Council meeting, those councilmen expressed discontent with the results of the selection process for the West Ashley Revitalization Task Force because they wanted more developers and other business interests instead of residents and neighborhood representatives.

Councilman Waring specifically mentioned his wish to have Charles Way, the Beach Company’s chairman of the board, involved.

All residents of the city, and particularly those west of the Ashley, should be concerned for the vision of revitalization expressed in Councilmen Waring and Moody’s joint opinion piece in The Post and Courier on July 6. They expressed again their desire to have more developers on the Revitalization Task Force and their vision that development would be taxpayer-backed by a variety of financing devices (including grants, city bonds, and general funds). They never mentioned plans to address the traffic congestion west of the Ashley, which should be a priority.

The fact is, peninsula and West Ashley residents share a common concern about traffic congestion in all parts of the city and a common desire to see the city’s infrastructure improved before any further over-development affecting the major traffic arteries in the city occurs.

We therefore urge all city residents to ask their council members not to support further over-development until the traffic and livability concerns of the residents are addressed, and particularly to reject projects such as the “Boulevard on Broad” and zoning changes like the Gateway zoning.

J. Randolph Pelzer is chairman of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association’s zoning committee and co-chairman of its Jasper committee.