The city’s preservationists and downtown neighborhood groups face a tough decision: continue an uphill battle against the Sergeant Jasper redevelopment or accept a deal some of them truly hate.
Folks call that a lose-lose.
City Council and the Beach Company reached a tentative settlement last month that would put an end to this soap opera, which seems to have dragged on since “Happy Days” went off the air.
And it’s not over.
Sources close to the deal suggest that if the plaintiffs — who lost — are going to appeal, the judge won’t vacate his order, which gutted the Board of Architectural Review and handed the Beach Company the win.
You know, even if the judge does amend his order, the BAR will not magically gain the power to regulate height or size. That’s the Planning Commission’s job.
Decades ago, these same groups fought Charleston Place and the same thing happened: They kept going to court, and kept losing.
And Charleston Place was built anyway.
For a town that worships history, a lot of people here forget a lot of it — or they’re determined to repeat it.
Sergeant Jasper opponents have been at a disadvantage since this whole fiasco began.
First, like it or not, the Beach Company has property rights, much to the chagrin of some. And the company first delivered a plan that fit the property’s existing zoning.
Blaming the city for not rezoning the land out from under them long ago is like saying, “Damn Mayor Grace for not barring cruise ship terminals” or “Mayor Gaillard should have zoned Market and Meeting DB-1 for dilapidated buildings in the ‘60s.”
Wait, some people may actually say that. And it would have done wonders for their property values.
Second, the line for compromise keeps moving. No deal is going to satisfy everyone because no one is on remotely the same page.
When the Beach Company held the first of many public hearings, residents said “less retail and office space,” so they amended the plan some — which will require a zoning change next week. Now people say the plan includes too many residences.
And way before this jumped the shark, some downtowners asked for a grocery store. When the Beach Company added one, you’d have thought they fired on Fort Sumter.
So there’s little chance the company will spitball ideas with the neighbors again.
But what happens now? Some people are so mad they’re leaning toward cutting off noses to spite faces. Downtown resident Sue Shuler says she’s been snubbed by neighbors because she and her husband actually like the plan.
“It’s like high school,” she says, “some of them will not talk to you.”
Yep, this ain’t over.
When city and Beach Company officials negotiated this nefarious and allegedly secret deal, neighborhood group officers and preservationists were sent a rough draft in advance and invited to give input. They declined.
It’s not a secret if your lawyer gets a call before it happens and you take a pass.
Of course, you can’t blame them for not wanting any part of it. They likely knew nothing would truly make their constituents happy except razing the Jasper and turning the property into a park.
Sorry, that’s just not realistic. If city officials couldn’t use eminent domain to acquire Waterfront Park — and some people didn’t want that — they sure couldn’t get it for this. Even if they did, they’d have to pay market value, which is probably in the ballpark of 5 to 10 percent of the city’s operating budget.
There are really only two outcomes here: preservationists and neighbors give in to a deal they don’t like, or they lawyer up and keep fighting with a strategy to delay or derail the redevelopment.
And what if they do that? Well, the Beach Company is sick of sitting in court (you know, why is court the only place to appeal a BAR ruling? Shouldn’t the city allow those to go to the Planning Commission or City Council — think of the legal savings.)
No matter what, no court is going to order the Beach Company to tear down the Jasper. And if they can’t do what they want with the building, eyesore that it is, they might decide their best option is to turn it into dorms or “workforce housing.”
And the ugly building stands for another 60 years.
Is that really a win?
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org