Ben Sawyer neighbors wary about planned apartments

A developer has proposed 246 apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space for this 15-acre site on Ben Sawyer Boulevard, that once was home to WCIV, Channel 4. Traffic and growth issues have some in Mount Pleasant and nearby Sullivan’s Island concerned about the development.

MOUNT PLEASANT — When developers first unveiled plans for apartments where Ben Sawyer Boulevard meets the marsh, they didn’t dare pitch as many units as they could have, and have since cut the number by 20 percent.

This week they learn if their site plans pass muster.

Known as The Atlantic, the project would be built at 1558 Ben Sawyer Blvd., a 15-acre site that once was home to a television station and is visible to those arriving here from Sullivan’s Island.

It’s also the most recent project to come under scrutiny during a time when residents are viewing large new developments with heightened skepticism — a time one town councilman recently predicted could go down as “The Year of No.”

Adam Monroe with Middle Street Partners said his company already has responded to public concerns by reducing the number of units from 310 to 246, eliminating a planned parking garage and reducing the amount of retail space to 14,000 square feet.

And the original plan already was less than the 350 units technically permissible under the town’s zoning, given the bonus densities for including workforce housing and creating parks and taking other steps.

“The project was too big,” Monroe said of the original version. “I think what we’ve got now is within the standards and expectations in the overlay district, but we’ve made an effort not to maximize density or building height.”

Aside from the apartment buildings built over parking, the project will include a walking trail, a pool and stormwater features.

But Jimmy Bagwell of the nonprofit Save Shem Creek said The Atlantic proposal still has too many residences. He said the Simmons Pointe property across the boulevard is dense by the town’s standards but only about one-fourth as dense as what is proposed at The Atlantic.

“We believe this unique property requires a plan deserving of its beauty and location, and the current plan is just a cookie-cutter, massive apartment complex with a trendy ‘mixed use’ label,” he said.

John Collins, president of Simmons Pointe’s homeowners association, also has urged his neighbors to turn out and speak out on the plan.

The association has several concerns, including the complex’s potential effects on the fragile marsh environment and on Ben Sawyer traffic. The developers also are seeking permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to fill 0.43 acres of freshwater wetlands.

While the project is in Mount Pleasant, Monroe has reached out to Sullivan’s Island because its residents would be affected, too.

At a special Thursday meeting, Sullivan’s Island Town Council heard from residents and Mount Pleasant officials on the issue.

Sullivan’s Mayor Pat O’Neil said the meeting was standing-room only. He emphasized to residents that the project is completely under the jurisdiction of Mount Pleasant. The meeting was held to provide islanders accurate information on the development, he said.

“I’m hearing quite a bit of concern,” he said.

The primary effect on the island will be more traffic on the causeway which already has issues with congestion year-round, he said.

“It’s no longer just Memorial Day to Labor Day. It’s almost like every weekend,” O’Neil said.

He noted that the island is served by a two-lane road with a swing span bridge. If the bridge opens, there is a big traffic backlog in both directions, he said.

“The big reason for being concerned is public safety,” he said.

Last year, Charleston County EMS made 181 trips on the island causeway for calls that involved residents and visitors. Seconds matter when getting emergency care and transport, he noted.

The Sullivan’s Fire Department has a mutual aid agreement with Mount Pleasant Fire Department. There is an increased likelihood of a delayed response time because of more causeway traffic caused by the project, O’Neil said.

He said he respects the jurisdiction of Mount Pleasant in reaching a decision on the development.

Islander Karen Coste attended the council meeting Thursday. “The impact with traffic is going to be huge,” she said.

Coste said she and other Sullivan’s residents worry that the development will worsen already serious summer traffic and parking problems. She expressed concerns about how emergency services could be slowed because of traffic in the event that a member of the island’s aging population requires transport to a hospital.

“It’s going to be scary,” she said.

Technically, the issue facing Mount Pleasant Town Council is not whether to rezone the property but whether to approve the plan’s impact assessment and conceptual plan.

And it will do it without a recommendation.

The town’s Planning Commission met last month to review the impact plan and deadlocked 3-3. The town’s planning staff has raised several questions about the plan but has not advised whether it should be approved or rejected.

Town Council’s Planning & Development Committee will review it Monday, and Town Council could make its final decision at its Feb. 10 meeting.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.