MOUNT PLEASANT — Plans for a National Medal of Honor Museum near the aircraft carrier Yorktown have been dealt an unexpected setback.
The Mount Pleasant Planning Commission overwhelmingly recommended that council deny the plans because of the proposed 140-foot height. The recommendation was unanimous among those who voted, although Peter Lehman abstained.
This was the first public indication since the plans were unveiled three years ago they might not be approved.
Supporters argue the project should move forward anyway because its significance, but that argument wasn't enough to help it pass this early review.
"I have ultimate respect for this project," Commissioner Roy Neal said before the vote Wednesday. "I just think it's a little much."
The waterfront site is zoned for 50 feet. Several nearby projects have been approved for 80 feet. The flight deck of the Yorktown is 98 feet.
The architect argued this is not just another office building but an iconic structure to honor war heroes.
"We feel it's deserving of that special consideration," Greg Reaves, of Safdie Architects of Boston, said. "We really feel like the mission of the museum deserves that."
Plans for the 140-foot-tall, pentagon-shaped building and adjacent star-shaped chapel were unveiled in April 2015. They have been prominently displayed on the website of the foundation that's raising money for the $100 million project. Mount Pleasant has set aside money to help move a section of Patriots Point Boulevard for the project as well.
"I was astounded, I truly was," National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation Executive Director Bill Phillips said after the meeting.
"We’re not a developer. This is something that’s going to be a gift both to the area and the country for a lot of years to come," he said. "We just need to be able to properly present the opportunity to where the community sees the value. This is an institution that is going to represent the highest award that we bestow on our heroes."
He said he doesn't expect this to affect the effort's fundraising efforts.
"We don’t view it as a closed door," Phillips said. "This is just one more milestone along the path. I don’t see this in any way, shape or form getting in the way of fundraising."
Council is expected to review the plans in March.
"It's really too soon to say what might happen," council Planning Committee Chairman Joe Bustos said. "If there are big changes, it will probably have to go back to the Planning Commission."
Mayor Will Haynie said it's too soon to say what the options are. He stressed that council respects both the commission's vote on the plan presented and the importance of the Medal of Honor Museum.
A traffic study that accompanied the application estimated attendance at 250,000 visitors a year.
Several readers commenting on the vote on the the newspaper's Facebook page said they suspected a hotel, office or condo project would have stood a better chance of being approved.
"When money is involved, patriotism takes a backseat," former town resident Ken Bonerigo said in a direct message.
The museum foundation is leasing the land from the Patriots Point Development Authority. Executive Director Mac Burdette, a former Mount Pleasant town administrator, said he was surprised at the commission's action but probably shouldn't have been.
"Mount Pleasant is different when it comes to the way their citizenry looks at all sorts of development," Burdette said. "As much as they respect the Medal of Honor Museum, and I’m convinced they do want it here, they have some lines they don’t like to cross, and height has always been an issue in Mount Pleasant."
Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Peter Lehman abstained from the vote.