Spot where bridges stood may soon feel like home

Change for the area where the old Cooper River bridges once touched down stalled, but the city intends to unveil a new plan to the Community Development Committee soon.

When the peninsular land where the old Cooper River bridges once touched down finally is developed, it likely will include a mix of housing, some of it high-end, to subsidize more affordable units, said City Councilman Robert Mitchell, who represents the area.

The city in about a month will present a plan for the 8-acre area between Morrison Drive and Cooper, Lee and Meeting streets to council’s Community Development Committee, said Tim Keane, the city’s planning director. But he wouldn’t detail what the plan will include, except that it primarily will involve a public-private partnership, consist mainly of housing, begin with the two blocks between Hanover and Meeting streets, and include not only a development proposal “but also a way to get it done.”

There was a low-income neighborhood in the area until it was torn down to make way for the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which opened in 2005. But while development is booming in other nearby parts of the peninsula, such as upper King Street and along Morrison Drive, the bridge area has sat vacant.

The only project on the drawing board is a community education center, which South Carolina State University will build on the southwest corner of America and Lee streets.

The city once had an ambitious plan to bring the bridge area back to life. Construction was to begin on new stores, offices and 350 homes in 2007, then in 2009. But the economy stalled and it never happened.

Keane has said some progress has been made in the area. The old bridges had isolated the neighborhood from the rest of the city, but new roads have been built to “reknit” it back into the fabric of Charleston. Other roads have been repaired and some work has been completed on drainage problems.

“The main thing for me is trying to put housing back that was displaced by the bridge,” Mitchell said. But the city has no money available to build a large low-income development.

It has the land, which the state Department of Transportation gave the city after the Ravenel bridge was built, Mitchell said. And that’s the bargaining chip the city can use with developers. If a company wants to develop that land, which sits on the city’s popular, and thriving peninsula, it must include some affordable housing in the plan, he said.

He also said the plan will include only multifamily housing, and no single-family homes. The area still has a level of environmental contamination that is suitable for multifamily buildings, but not individual homes with yards in which children play.

Mitchell said he also thinks it’s a good idea to build communities for people of varied income levels. It’s generally understood that’s better than isolating groups of low-income residents. “People feel better about themselves,” he said. “You don’t know who is rich and who is poor.”

Edward Jones, who lives in the area and is the former vice president of the Eastside Community Development Corp., said neighborhood residents are closely watching the city’s plans for the area. “It’s the only empty land on the East Side,” he said.

At least some low-income housing must be included in the plan, he said, because it was low-income residents who were relocated to make way for the bridge.

“And we can’t just overlook the people who were relocated,” he said. Maybe some of them can be brought back to the neighborhood.

He also said he would like to see some housing built for senior citizens.

Kwadjo Campbell, a former councilman who was suspended in 2005 after a couple of high-profile legal run-ins, said he has a plan for the area. And he made a presentation on it to the Community Development Committee earlier this month. The plan involves the Cardinal real estate company and JC & Associates, a company owned by Campbell and his wife, developing the area and including more low-income housing.

Campbell said he had heard that the city was creating a plan comprised largely of workforce and affordable housing for people who earn 80 percent to 120 percent of the area’s average median income. His plan involved more housing for people who bring in 30 percent to 80 percent of the average median income.

Charleston’s median household for the years 2009-13 is $51,737, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mitchell, who is chairman of the Community Development Committee, said Campbell was allowed to make his presentation for information only. And he doesn’t think the city has enough money to make a plan like Campbell’s work.

If the city had the money for such a plan, he said, it would be done long ago.

“We’re doing the best we can,” he said. “It’s reality.”

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