Anticipation about the proposed redevelopment of the Sergeant Jasper site going before the Board of Architectural Review today has overshadowed an even larger development on the panel’s agenda — WestEdge.
That stands to reason. While the Beach Company’s plans for the Jasper property at Broad and Barre streets have drawn intense fire from neighborhoods and preservationists, the concept of WestEdge has so far been well received.
It’s ironic, however, in that many lament how peninsula Charleston is changing, and the high-density, high-rise WestEdge development of apartments, medical research space and retail is a dramatic illustration of transformation.
There are several possible reasons for the lack of angst about WestEdge, formerly known as the Horizon Project:
1) It is just across Spring Street from the medical complex, which also is dense and includes tall buildings. The city years ago designated it as a place for dense biotechnology-related development.
2) The concept of building a place where people can live, work and shop, thus minimizing their need for cars, is appealing to a city struggling with congestion and limited parking.
3) And then there’s the promise that the research space will draw brilliant minds to do work that enhances the Medical University of South Carolina and grows the city’s tax base.
All are reasons similar developments have proven immensely successful near other research universities.
People like the idea of urban living, combined with close proximity to stimulating jobs and amenities like parks and sidewalk dining.
In addition to researchers, developers expect WestEdge to be convenient for medical students, hospital employees and professors. Fifty of the 350 residential units in one building being presented today will be priced as workforce housing.
The BAR will consider two WestEdge buildings today — the eight-story apartment tower, built over shops and restaurants and surrounding a five-story parking garage, and an eight-story research and office building.
The BAR gave preliminary approval to another building in WestEdge earlier this year with relatively little public input. It is essentially a large parking garage wrapped by apartments. Andres Duany, an architect and planner hired by the city to review its approval process for new buildings, was critical of its facade, the design of which is being tweaked.
Now is the time for the public to acquaint themselves with WestEdge and voice their opinions about the proposals for two of its signature buildings.
The many residents expected to attend today’s 4:30 p.m. BAR meeting at Burke High School to comment on the Jasper project could use the opportunity to learn about WestEdge. It is the result of a partnership of MUSC, its foundation and the city.
Private developers will construct the buildings. Money from a special city tax district will pay for streets, drainage, parks and parking. The aim is to revitalize the site, starting with the development of 22 of its roughly 60 acres bounded by Spring Street, Lockwood Boulevard, Fishburne Street and Hagood Avenue.
Other developers have been scared away because much of the property is on a former marshy area used as city waste dump. To build there requires extensive piling and additional environmental protections.
Many in the crowd attending today’s BAR meeting to protest the Sergeant Jasper plan will likely, and justifiably, decry the proposed height of the 20-story building as far too tall for a predominately three-story area.
But there are places even on peninsula Charleston where tall buildings make sense — like upper Meeting Street where new apartment buildings and hotels are being built.
Today’s BAR meeting should be a good opportunity to compare an out-of-place, too-tall building on Broad Street to an intentional dense development.