Fix West Ashley ‘suicide merge’

Potential uses for the closed Northbridge Piggly Wiggly site between Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Old Towne Road are being debated. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Somebody is finally listening to West Ashley, and there’s no telling what they might hear.

Well, other than "No more hotels."

City planners are set up at the Schoolhouse event center on Magnolia Road, drawing plans for the Northbridge area — as dictated by locals.

Really. They did it all day Tuesday and will be back again today from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The particular problem they’re trying to solve involves what to do with the Piggly Wiggly property between Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Old Towne Road near the suicide merge.

Last year, folks made it pretty clear they didn’t want a gas station there, no matter how much the area could use one, and promptly sent Sunoco packing.

So now the city is just listening, collecting ideas and sketching them out on paper for the West Ashley Revitalization Commission to study.

“The public input has been very smart,” said Jacob Lindsey, Charleston's director of planning. “We really don’t have a predetermined idea.”

That’s good because West Ashley residents are tired of having things foisted on them against their will. For once, they’d like to have a say.

Just don’t expect a consensus anytime soon — unless the city proposes a Trader Joe’s.

Sorry, an inside joke around West Ashley.

Choke points

Of course, there’s no way to please everyone here.

Even city officials concede there’s unlikely to be a consensus; this will be a compromise, as much as that has become a dirty word.

Charleston planners are offering a number of ideas for the 2½-acre site, including: a park, a visitors’ center, a community center or a hotel. They’ve also sketched out a walkable retail and shopping district, sort of like Avondale.

Would it kill them to throw a Texas Roadhouse into the mix?

Of all those plans, you can guess which appear to be non-starters: the hotel and the visitors’ center, mainly because they think the area already has enough of both — hotels and visitors.

West Ashley residents are rarely in accord, but on Tuesday many of them said the same thing. They like the idea of a community center, perhaps with some outdoor space included. But they did not cotton to the artists’ space-age renderings of what such buildings might look like.

They hit a little too close to ye olde geodesic dome from Charles Towne Landing, which is another local thing.

“That’s not West Ashley,” one couple noted.

No matter what city officials decide to put on that land, they should probably pay more attention to what happens with streets.

Residents say their primary concern is fixing the suicide merger of Sam Rittenberg and Old Towne Road, even if it means using some of that empty lot.

Which it will.

That’s probably why there is no huge outcry for another walking shopping and restaurant district, a la Avondale.

To many folks, that just sounds like another traffic choke-point — and West Ashley has enough of those already.

Where strip malls die

It’s no surprise that West Ashley folks feel like they’ve been ignored since, well, forever.

They have watched the Charleston peninsula rehabbed in recent decades, stood by as Mount Pleasant got gussied up. Even North Charleston, which languished under similar conditions as West Ashley for years, has gotten an attractive makeover in the past decade.

Meanwhile, West Ashley has become the place where strip malls — and regular malls — go to die. They don’t even have a PF Chang’s.

But the city is listening now, and anyone who has the chance should mosey over to the Schoolhouse — a hidden West Ashley gem itself — and give the planners their two cents.

A few years back, Mount Pleasant built an office building/parking garage near Shem Creek, and half the town raised Cain that the town sneaked it by them (never mind all the public meetings and news stories).

No doubt when Charleston announces the winning plan for Northbridge months from now, those same rumblings will surface. But city officials will point to two full days of public workshops and rightfully say everyone had their chance.

So speak now, or forever hold your Facebook rants.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.