New Jasper plan wins praise, but questions loom

This rendering shows “Plan B,” including a new park on St. Mary’s Field (lower left) with buildings of mixed height in the distance, where the existing Sergeant Jasper building now stands.

Many people, including Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, say The Beach Co.’s latest plan for the Sergeant Jasper site is the best so far, but that’s not enough to guarantee it will be built.

The plan — known as “Plan B” — would include 375,000 square feet, about 80 percent of which would be residential, clustered in five buildings of varying heights, while the St. Mary’s Field property west of Barre Street would become a 2.2-acre public park.

While a handful of neighborhood and preservation leaders praised the plan Friday, they also shared concerns that might make it tough for their members to support it.

“I’m still hopeful we can work something out,” Tecklenburg said. “In terms of the park space, I think it’s a home run.”

John Darby, president and CEO, did not attend Friday’s meeting but said later that his absence doesn’t mean that the company has given up on Plan B.

“If we could figure out a way to expedite it — and I mean really quickly — we’re all ears,” he said. “We’re not there yet, and we may not get there.”

Even Jay Williams, co-chair of the Jasper Committee of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association and one of the company’s most vocal critics, said, “We like this plan. This plan is the best we’ve seen by 50 yards.”

But Williams and others also said they would like to see some changes, such as lowering the tallest buildings from 115 feet to 100 feet or less. The existing Sergeant Jasper tower, which could get refurbished if this plan fails, stands at 154 feet.

Kristopher King, director of the Preservation Society, said the groups also would like to see more residential and less office space, plus greater setbacks for buildings along Broad and Barre streets.

But City Councilman Rodney Williams (no relation to Jay) criticized such critiques.

“I think you’re stalling,” he said. “If you’re going to compromise, you can’t micromanage. You’re losing me because you’re stalling.”

And City Councilman Bill Moody said it’s important for neighborhood groups and preservationists to rally around the new plan because the company’s only viable alternative is to renovate the Sergeant Jasper.

“I think we have to be real careful because what we don’t want is the ugly building that’s there,” he said.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of other moving parts.

The company has submitted plans to the city’s Board of Architectural Review for a series of new buildings around the Sergeant Jasper, but the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals first must rule on a technical issue regarding the company’s BAR submittal.

And the company and city will meet in court Feb. 19 for a hearing on the company’s lawsuit alleging the BAR overstepped its bounds last summer when it rejected yet another plan for a new building the same size as the existing Jasper.

And the city must decide what is the next step for proceeding with Plan B. Some suggested the city should brief board members of the Historic Charleston Foundation, Preservation Society and Charlestowne and Harleston Village neighborhoods, but no date was set.

If Plan B is still alive by then, the city also must figure out how it will move through its zoning and architectural review boards. City Planning Director Jacob Lindsey said Friday the city has some options there, but he did not elaborate.

Darby said the city’s approval process is “broken,” and the company is renovating the existing building. At some point, it will be unable to turn back.

“This back and forth with this kind of behavior is what we’ve been experiencing for three years,” he said. “ It’s become impossible to get consensus, and that is our concern going forward. Getting consensus from so many different groups is a challenge because they all have their own agendas and they all think the project should look a certain way.”

As the meeting got started, Tecklenburg donned a gift hat with the words “Have Mercy” on it, and he later made clear he feels either some form of Plan B will get built — or the existing building will stay.

“Let’s have some mercy and figure this thing out,” he said. “We do have to quit meeting this way.”

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.