Garage subsidy may be dead, but project is very much alive

Mount Pleasant Town Council has canceled a subsidy for a planned office building and parking garage at Coleman Boulevard and Mill Street.

MOUNT PLEASANT — A day after Town Council ended its planned subsidy of a private parking garage at Shem Creek, the battle continues over the larger project.

At issue now is whether zoning officials erred when it approved the four-story office and garage project, part of which sits on land partly in the town’s Marine District zoning area.

The overlay does not allow office use and has a lower height limit, but the town’s staff deemed the issue did not need to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Jimmy Bagwell, head of the nonprofit Save Shem Creek group battling the garage, sent the town a letter asking the board to hear an appeal.

“While we have now learned this decision was made in the summer of 2014, this action was taken by the town away from the public’s view, with no public notice given,” he wrote, adding the staff’s decision “effectively amounts to a rezoning without public knowledge.”

Town officials had no immediate comment Wednesday about how it would respond to the group’s appeal.

Meanwhile, the developer also has an issue with the town over its decision to revoke up to $2.77 million in hotel taxes for the garage, which would be built for the office project but also would serve those visiting nearby bars and restaurants.

The project was going to have 276 parking spaces in the garage when that deal was struck in 2013, but developer Tex Small had been in discussions with town officials about amending it and lowering that number. Tuesday’s vote essentially ended those talks.

Gray Taylor, an attorney for the development’s partners, said the town’s efforts to require 100 additional spaces in the garage “appears to simply be a form of political cover.”

“This is another example that the town is indeed closed for business, closed for economic development, and closed for tourism,” Taylor’s letter said. “Most troubling is that the town appears to be willing to go to extreme lengths to avoid living up to its existing agreements with the business community.”

Small said, “It’s hard to believe you have a legal document and then one evening they decide, ‘We don’t like it.’ Good luck with that.”

Taylor said the developer considers the town in default and may pursue collecting the $185,000 annual rent payments under the deal, but Small said the development’s partners are still reviewing their options.

“We haven’t made a final decision on how we’re going to treat it, so it would be inappropriate to comment,” he said.

Small noted the partners already have the town’s approval for its design, which features two 20,000-square-foot floors of office space over two levels of parking. He said they have applied for a foundation permit and could start work as early as April.

Tuesday’s council meeting might have been the most crowded to date. Most people were there for the garage project, though many attended because of issues in the Grove and Park West neighborhoods.

“From what I understand, people turned around and went home because they couldn’t find a parking space,” Bagwell said. “They couldn’t get into the building.”