The planning document that will guide the future of West Ashley is one step closer to completion.
Dover, Kohl & Partners, the national planning firm hired to study and create the master plan for Charleston's largest suburb, has published its first draft for residents and city officials to review and critique before a final copy goes to City Council by the end of this year.
The 258-page report lays out "realistic but ambitious goals" to improve the appearance, infrastructure, mobility and overall community in West Ashley, with a prioritized list of approaches the city can use to implement them.
The West Ashley Revitalization Commission, a 19-member citizens advisory group, will be poring over the document at its next meeting, and there will be several opportunities for residents to weigh in.
Touted as the most ambitious planning project in Charleston’s history, the master plan is key to the city's efforts for redeveloping the large suburb characterized by aging strip malls and vast parking lots.
Residents have complained for years the area has been allowed to grow without a unified vision to guide developments, cohesive drainage systems and ways to get around — which in many areas has created flooding and traffic.
Dover Kohl gathered those complaints, as well as ideas on how to resolve them, during various community input sessions throughout the year, which have shaped some of the plan's key proposals.
The central strategy is to add a variety of uses to commercial corridors and better connect them with mass transit and pedestrian infrastructure.
"These sites present the greatest opportunity for focused interventions to remedy West Ashley’s challenges while strengthening surrounding neighborhoods," the consultants said in the report. "It will bring jobs and services closer to where people live, and boost the value and utility of existing homes, while reducing how far people have to drive and reducing the number of trips taken by car."
City Planner Jacob Lindsey said the planning department is impressed with the draft.
"It’s a very thorough path forward with many specific steps we can begin immediately, as well as long-term goals," he said.
One section he's particularly interested in is the set of recommendations on drainage improvements, which he said generated new ideas the city could also use in other parts of town.
The range of ideas include providing incentives to encourage developments on higher ground, developing new park spaces to help protect wetlands, and increasing the annual budget for drainage maintenance and inspection.
"They also analyzed specific roadways that may be inundated by sea level rise in the future, giving us a concrete set of steps to take to make West Ashley more resilient," Lindsey said.