One of downtown Charleston's tallest buildings is coming down with more of a protracted hum than a sudden thud.

For weeks, demolition crews have been busy atop the Sergeant Jasper, a boxy, former 14-story apartment building overlooking Colonial Lake.

With jackhammers and other heavy equipment, it's being dismantled beam by beam. So far, about four of its uppermost floors are completely gone, and its southern facade has had most of its exterior brick peeled off.

The work marks a milestone in Charleston's most controversial development in decades, a drama that began in 2013 and ultimately led to assorted zoning and court fights.

The Jasper had stood vacant for years as the debate dragged on, adding to The Beach Company's costs.

The Sergeant Jasper might be the largest building ever razed in Charleston; Chief Building Official Edye Graves said she knew of none larger.

But unlike other high profile demolitions — such as the recent implosion of the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta — The Beach Co. opted against ending the Jasper's life with a bang.

Graves said the company said it wouldn't use explosives, in order to limit the impact on its neighbors. The company declined comment for this story.

“Once they told us that they weren’t imploding it, they were just taking it down floor by floor, it kind of lessened our involvement,” she said. "How they're doing it now doesn't have a big impact on the surrounding neighborhood."

Graves said the city ensured the building’s asbestos was removed first and that there were plans to contain debris on site.

Had the company opted for implosion, she said the city would have done more to ensure the site was secure.

A few weeks ago, the city contacted the company about some paper-like debris that had floated down onto the city’s nearby tennis courts. While Graves said the city wasn’t sure where it came from, “we called The Beach Company, and they immediately got on it.”

The piece-by-piece demolition approach is similar to the one used recently by the Medical University of South Carolina's contractors when they took down a large steel-framed bank building at Cannon Street and Wescott Court.

Lowcountry Unlimited of North Charleston did that demolition as a subcontractor to Hill Construction and was able to recycle some of the material to lower the demolition cost, MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said.

From the neighbors' standpoint, the Jasper demolition has meant a regular hum from jackhammers and debris trucks.

Amanda Ford, who lives at Gadsden and Beaufain streets, said she is relieved the building was not demolished through explosions, partly because much of that part of the peninsula is filled land, making its soil more susceptible to vibrations.

She and other neighbors said they are more on edge about what will happen next.

The company already has received Board of Architectural Review approval for a large new replacement that includes ground-floor retail spaces totaling 25,000-square-feet, plus 75,000-square-feet of office space along Barre Street and 222 residential units.

The din from demolition may be just a prelude of things to come.

“Once the building comes down," Ford said, "then there will be the pulsing of the pilings. ... I just hope they do us proud. It’s a painful birth.”

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.