The first sprouts of development on the proposed $1 billion Lorelei project off Charleston’s upper peninsula are at least 18 months away, but those involved in the massive undertaking are seeking input from the community well before any shovels dig into the 160-acre undeveloped island.
On Monday, Lorelei team members fielded questions about the mixed-use project on Laurel Island and talked about urbanism and walkable communities for what developers call “a relief valve” for congestion in the booming downtown area.
Plans for the industrial-zoned island at the end of Romney Street call for retail, restaurants with waterfront patios, a locally curated food hall, hotel, meeting space, offices, upscale apartments, homes, an entertainment venue on the water, community gathering spaces, hiking and biking trails, boat access and parking.
How it all will be laid out is open for now, said Andres Duany, a master planner hired as part of the Lorelei team.
“We have been discussing the numbers,” he said. “How many units. I’m always for higher density — everything works better for retail and jobs. We are not talking about high-rises, though.”
Mark Toro, an Atlanta-based managing partner in North American Properties — which has not yet purchased the site from an arm of Philadelphia-based investment firm Lubert-Adler but hopes to develop the site after clearing financial and regulatory hurdles — said all plans are conceptual for now.
“The list of uses is open for discussion,” he said.
The company is planning a weeklong design charrette in October.
“It will line up our team and the concerns of everyone really well,” Duany said. “We will look at it and say, ‘This works and that doesn’t.’”
In the interim, Toro and his colleagues will compile the constraints that will be considered in developing the site.
Those include the topography and subsurface condition of the old landfill on the site, developable land area, and how much is marshland and waterfront.
“Other than those, the sky’s the limit as long as it’s viable,” Toro said. “We have no idea what is going to be the winning idea.”
After that, the project will enter the design phase with civil engineers and architects to develop drawings for construction.
The plans will have to go through the city’s permitting process, but Toro said the site is outside the purview of the Design Review Board.
While it could be 18 months before anything materializes on the ground, Duany noted that a recession or a change in the job market could negatively affect the time frame for development.
He also said the job situation could change quickly for the better if a large company decides to set up an information technology shop on the peninsula.
“We need to keep it open for adjustments and make sure it’s walkable and mixed-use and flexible as society changes,” Duany said.
“Charleston currently doesn’t have a place to house a really large tech employer,” he said. “If Google showed up, (Lorelei) would accommodate a major employer and be a vehicle to attract major employment centers to the peninsula and to house them. We are not building this for us. We are building it for the next generation.”
Duany called the project very future-oriented.
“We are not rearview-oriented,” he said. “If we were going to do that, we would make some sort of resort.”
A resort plan for the island more than a decade ago called The Promenade was abandoned by another developer.
Stephen Zoukis, managing partner of Raven Cliff Co., is a real estate developer focused on converting older properties to new uses such as Half Mile North and Pacific Box and Crate near the Lorelei project site.
A fan of the proposed development, he believes almost all of Charleston’s office district will migrate to the upper peninsula over the next decade and Lorelei will benefit from it.
Duany believes the project will become a reality because it has no immediate neighbors to come out against it and because it is not destroying nature since it’s being planned on a former landfill that won’t grow trees.
Its proximity to downtown Charleston, a world-renowned city, is also a plus, he said.
The Charleston area’s population is expected to swell by 300,000 people in 11 years to 1 million, but Duany said Lorelei will only have room to accommodate 12,000 of them.
Though Lorelei will only hold up to 4 percent of the newcomers, a consultant on the project said it won’t be cost-prohibitive to live there.
“More supply will cause costs to go down,” said Jeff Speck, a city planner and author helping the developer.
Toro said it’s important the project is built to capture human energy on the streets and in the businesses that go there.
“We have to create a place much like King Street because you have density,” he said. “Add patios to that and you have a European city.”
On concerns of island flooding, Duany pointed out the island is 16 feet above sea level — higher than Charleston’s lower peninsula — and the buildings will be built higher off the ground and will include the latest standards to withstand hurricane-force winds.
“This place will be extraordinarily safe,” he said.
Duany also said planning is now trending toward urbanism and less reliability on cars, which could play into how much development is set aside for parking.
“This could be a pivotal project for the nation,” he said.
As for the remains of an old coal tipple on the island’s edge, Toro said no decision has been made as to how it will be incorporated into the development, but he called it “an absolute treasure.”
“The only thing we have to get right is the street,” he said of Lorelei. “If you get the street right, everything else takes care of itself.”
Toro added, “If the community doesn’t embrace it, we fail.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 843 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.