Taller buildings with more amenities goal for upper peninsula

Charleston’s Upper Peninsula Initiative aims to lay out a vision for development in the East Central neighborhood and other areas between the Cooper River and Interstate 26, from Lee Street to Milford Street. The city is considering launching a new zoning district for the area. Wade Spees/Staff

The city of Charleston is proposing a new tool to take its plan for the upper peninsula from the drawing board to the streets.

In a Wednesday meeting at the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422, the city unveiled a plan to create a special zoning district for a portion of the upper eastern side of the peninsula. The district would allow property owners to build taller buildings and denser developments in exchange for them including community amenities, such as affordable housing, stormwater improvements and parks and plazas.

Dozens of people attended the meeting, most of them asked about how specific properties would be affected by the plan. Others raised concerns about how growth in the area will impact current residents.

Tim Keane, the city’s planning director, said the zoning plan would be incentive-based, and developers would earn points for each community improvement they agree to provide. For instance, the base height limit for new buildings in the zone will be four stories, Keane said. But, a builder could build up to 10 stories if he or she earned enough points.

Keane said the city never has used such a system before, and he’s not aware of it being used anywhere else.

The city last year launched the Charleston Upper Peninsula Initiative, aimed at developing the 865-acre area east of Interstate 26 from Lee to Milford streets, which is transitioning from heavy industry and commercial use to modern, high-tech workplaces, retail shops, housing and restaurants. About 30 percent of the area is undeveloped, allowing for future growth as more people flock to the Holy City.

But the new zoning district would include only the Morrison Drive corridor, which is the most thriving part of the area.

Keane said the zoning proposal likely will come before the city’s Planning Commission in March, followed by the City Council in April. Council must approve it with three readings before it goes in effect.

Elizabeth Jenkins, president of the East Central Neighborhood Council, said she and her neighbors who have lived in the area for years are not opposed to growth, but they want to make sure it comes with community improvements, such as affordable housing, road improvements and parks and playgrounds.

The area is getting a lot of attention right now because a lot of new people are moving in, she said. “But what about the people who have been here all their lives? They’re like the forgotten people.”

Rev. Alma Dungee said she wants more information about what city leaders mean by affordable housing. She hopes they build housing that the people currently living in the area can afford.

Katie McKain, the city’s senior planner, said the zoning plan also will include flexible parking strategies that would allow parking facilities, such as parking garages, to be up to 1,500 feet from a building. And it will support rooftop uses and “active uses” on ground floors, such as commercial developments that would make street life more vibrant.

Keane said the city’s plan will not encourage new single-family homes being built, but instead will push for apartments and condominiums.

Keane said the area, like the rest of the city, will need to be served by improved public transportation systems. Charleston is expected to grow rapidly over the next several years. The city now has about 134,000 residents, but the population likely will jump to about 200,000 15 years from now. “People want to be in downtown Charleston and there’s not that much land in downtown Charleston.”

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