Army of foes might grow even larger at next Sergeant Jasper meeting

Preservation Society Director Kristopher King said he didn't realize how many people had tried unsuccessfully to get into the hearing room for a Planning Commission meeting on the Sergeant Jasper site until he saw this photograph Thursday morning.

Wednesday's Charleston Planning Commission meeting was the most crowded of any in recent memory, but the record might not last for long.

Hundreds of residents turned out to listen to — and speak out about — a redevelopment plan for the Sergeant Jasper site near Colonial Lake, a plan that's controversial for its density and potential congestion.

Still, few anticipated that density and congestion problems would be an issue in the very meeting room where the plan was to be voted on.

The city already moved the Planning Commission meeting from its usual third-floor conference room to the School Board's chambers, but that wasn't enough, and the commission ultimately postponed its hearing because too many were stuck in the hall outside.

“That's your density for you!” one shouted.

The city said Thursday it would announce a new date and location as soon as it is set.

Preservation Society Director Kristopher King said he didn't realize how many had tried unsuccessfully to get into the hearing room until he saw this newspaper's photograph of the jammed hallway on Thursday morning.

“Realistically, given what's going on, you might have more people show up at the next meeting,” he said.

“It was good to see a good turnout because, obviously, this is really important to a lot of people.”

The public's passion stems from the size of the project (more than 6 acres); its sensitive location at the southwestern edge of the city's historic district; and the magnitude of the request itself.

About two decades ago, the same neighborhoods rallied to turn back another controversial project that had the backing of Mayor Joe Riley — a plan to give the Charleston County School District city money to help renovate the old Murray Vocational School building for use as the Academic Magnet High School.

Riley barely prevailed at City Council by casting the deciding vote, but opponents ultimately convinced the School Board to move the high school to North Charleston instead. The old school was converted to high-end condominiums.

This time, the proposed change is arguably even greater. The Beach Co. is seeking permission for the following:

Demolishing the abandoned Sergeant Jasper apartment building, which was built in 1950 and comprises 3.2 acres of the site.

Building three new buildings along Broad Street, two of them four stories tall and a third that is four stories along the street and seven stories in the center. The new development's footprint would cover 6.4 acres. The buildings would include a mix of 454 one-, two- and three-bedroom units and would include about 700 parking spaces underneath in garages —one space for each bedroom.

Creating a small park on Barre Street, which would be open to the public.

Building a new grocery store up to 35,000 square feet, which might be open 24 hours a day.

The postponement of Wednesday's hearing keeps alive the suspense over what the city's planning staff thinks about all these changes. Its recommendation was to be given Wednesday night but won't be disclosed until the commission's meets again on the project, city spokeswoman Barbara Vaughn said.

But that's only a recommendation to the Planning Commission, which in turn only makes a recommendation to City Council.

However, the commission's vote still is important because its positive recommendation would need only seven of 13 votes on council for approval, City Councilman Mike Seekings said. If the commission doesn't vote to approve it, then the mayor and council would need 10 votes to pass it.

Meanwhile, the Beach Co. released a statement saying that it has been gathering community feedback on the project since 2006 “and agrees that it is essential that the community's voice continues to be heard as we progress through the rezoning process.”

Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of commercial and office space that could be built  on the 6.4-acre Sergeant Jasper site. Tim Keane, the city’s planning director, said there is no limit on the amount of commercial office space that could be built on that site.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.