Historic Charleston could get a new high-rise soon.
The Beach Co. unveiled a dramatically different approach to developing its Sergeant Jasper property west of Colonial Lake — a plan that would create a new building about 20 stories tall, much higher than the closed apartment tower that’s there now.
The company’s new plan, made public Monday, comes after it abandoned its previous proposal to construct a series of four-story buildings closer to the street with a seven-story tower in the middle.
The company pulled that plan a month ago in response to fierce criticism from residents and preservation groups.
Beach Co. President John Darby said that while the plans are at a conceptual stage, the company needs no zoning change — only approval from the city’s Board of Architectural Review. He said construction could begin by July 2016.
“The public wanted to give input — they got it. This has been going on a long time,” he said. “There will be some strong opinions no matter what we do.”
The new plan, developed with architects Antunovich Associates and LS3P Associates, features a single, large building set far back from Broad Street rather than a series of several smaller buildings just off the sidewalk.
“We got a lot of pushback on that,” Darby said of buildings along the street. “People want to drive down Broad Street and not even know a building is there. That’s sort of the experience today.”
The mix of uses is also different. Instead of 454 residential units and up to 35,000 square feet of commercial space, the new plan would have only 80 luxury residences, about 40,350 square feet of retail space and 118,000 square feet of offices. Those uses will ring a six-floor parking garage with 780 spaces — almost 50 more than in the previous plan.
The top of the six-story garage would include a residential deck with a pool and courtyard areas.
The new plan also involves only 4.2 acres: the company’s property east of Barre Street. The undeveloped tract known as St. Mary’s field is not included for the time being, and it’s unclear when the company will move to build residential units there. “That’s for another day,” Darby said.
The new project also does not include a 24-hour grocery store, which also drew heated criticism in the old plan.
It also will have less impact on traffic than the previous plan for 454 apartments, Darby said. The new mix of office, residential and retail use will ensure a more even flow of cars throughout the day, lessening the volume at peak hours.
While the company plans to build one large building, it would be broken into four different segments, with a six-floor parking deck ringed by an eight-story office and retail building, a lower residential tower and a much taller tower.
The tall tower would contain 18 floors of luxury units but would look more like 20 stories because of an unoccupied ground floor space and a penthouse for mechanical equipment. Darby said the building’s total height is unclear because of unsolved questions, such as how tall the ceilings would be. The property is in a so-called 3-X height zone, which allows buildings to be taller the further they are set back from the street.
While rumors have swirled in recent days about a 25-story tower, the company has not vetted the plans with neighborhood and preservation groups. They will have a chance to speak out when the project goes before the Board of Architectural Review, but that date has not been set.
The initial reaction indicates the new plan might be even less popular than the old one. “I like the folks at the Beach Company and have known John for years, but they seem to only know extremes,” said Elizabeth Boineau of Harleston Village. “Where’s the compromise, one has to wonder.”
Efforts to seek other comments from neighborhood and preservation groups were unsuccessful, as many seemed surprised at the news. Winslow Hastie of the Historic Charleston Foundation said he had not heard of the new plan, and Mayor Joe Riley’s spokeswoman Barbara Vaughn said the mayor was aware it had been filed Monday but had not had a chance to review it.
Kristopher King, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, said he also heard of the new design Monday for the first time. “Obviously, it really does bring up a lot of questions,” he said. “We need time to review this.”
While it’s unusual for a developer not to consult with preservation groups and the mayor’s office before going public, Darby clearly has been frustrated by the lack of success from the company’s earlier efforts to meet with neighborhood and preservation groups.
“These special interest groups, they are not on the same page,” he said. “There’s no consensus. There’s not even consensus within their groups. That makes it very difficult to navigate among them.”
While some might see a new high-rise as an appropriate move in historic Charleston, the city’s own architectural consultant, Florida urban planner and architect Andres Duany, recently said preservation groups were mistaken to fight taller buildings around Marion Square. What’s important, Duany said, is a building’s height relative to the width of the surrounding public realm, such as streets and parks.
Duany also praised the city’s taller buildings, such as the People’s Building and the Francis Marion Hotel — buildings that Darby said would serve as case studies for the new Jasper’s design.
Darby said there are some advantages to the taller building.
“As you pull this building down (hypothetically, to distribute its space over more area), it just got fat and ugly,” Darby said. “The taller the building, the better the appearance, the better the design. As you pull the building down, you lose those setbacks, as well.” The tower will be between 175 feet and 75 feet back from Broad Street, and only 51 percent of the lot will be built upon.
It’s unclear if the 80 luxury units will be condominiums or apartments, or how many bedrooms they will have.
“That decision may be made a couple of years out,” Darby said. Meanwhile, demolition of the existing 14-story Sergeant Jasper tower could begin by July.
“I clearly like the route we’re going better today,” he added. “One of the great things about the site, the existing building, is the views. We’ve obviously taking advantage of them.”