Sgt. Jasper plan stirs army of opponents

An overflow crowd exceeded the capacity of the Charleston County Schools’ board room at 75 Calhoun St. Wednesday, forcing the city’s Planning Commission to defer a discussion on a proposal to develop the site of the former Sergeant Jasper apartment building.

A gathering on the Beach Co.’s plan to redevelop the Sergeant Jasper apartment building site Wednesday at times sounded more like a rally than a public meeting.

Hundreds opposed to the project near Colonial Lake packed the city’s Planning Commission meeting on the first floor of 75 Calhoun St. — so many that the gathering violated city fire regulations. The commission, after exploring other options, eventually voted unanimously to reschedule the meeting and hold it at a different, larger location. But it hasn’t yet announced a time or place for the next meeting.

Most opponents objected to the density of the proposed development. It would include 454 apartments in three buildings, compared to about 225 apartments in the one 14-story building now on the site on Broad Street, near some of the peninsula’s historic neighborhoods.

The commission had moved the meeting from the smaller room it regularly uses in the Charleston County School District building on Calhoun Street, to the School Board’s meeting room, which has a capacity of 200. But the room still was far too small for the passionate and fiery crowd that regularly shouted out objections and sometimes booed city leaders’ comments.

Commission Chairman Francis McMann warned the crowd to be civil, and implored people to stop shouting from the back of the room.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the meeting was “no place for cheers and jeers.”

Many at the meeting were concerned about the traffic the larger development would generate.

“We just don’t want the traffic,” said Luke Daniels, co-president of Harleston Place. That 38-unit development lies between Beaufain, Wentworth and Barre streets and Lockwood Boulevard, he said. “Lockwood is a highway,” he said. “And Beaufain and Wentworth are becoming major crosstown routes.”

The plan for the Sergeant Jasper could bring a lot of traffic to Barre Street as well, he said. “The last quiet street.”

Corie Hipp, the group’s other co-president, said the existing 14-story building was out of character with the neighborhood when it was built in 1950. “It’s up to the Beach Co. to see they don’t carry over that tradition. It’s infuriating. It’s terrifying,” she said.

Beach Co. president John Darby said he’s disappointed the company didn’t get to make its presentation. But he’s pleased at the amount of interest residents have shown in the project.

The commission must consider whether to amend the city’s Century V plan, which was approved in 2011 and governs land use, to allow the residential and commercial development near Colonial Lake the company is proposing. It also must consider a request to change the 6.4-acre property’s zoning to a planned unit development, or PUD. That sort of zoning lays out a plan for the entire development.

But neighborhood residents don’t like the zoning proposal, which they think will limit public input.

Many residents wore anti-PUD buttons made for the meeting.

Beth Griffin, who lives in the Charlestowne neighborhood, said it was a curious coincidence that the packed room mirrored what the Beach Co. was trying to do on the Sergeant Jasper site.

And Daniels said he thinks the city should have planned better for the meeting. The issue was widely publicized in the media, and it was clear people are passionate about it, he said.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.