Beach Company still has a tough sell to make by Colonial Lake

Residents of the Sergeant Jasper received letters informing them that they have to move out starting in mid-May Tuesday February 18, 2014 . (Grace Beahm/Staff)

On Sept. 9, 1951, Beach Company founder J.C. Long placed advertisements in The News and Courier when he officially opened the towering Sergeant Jasper Apartments overlooking Moultrie Playground and Colonial Lake in downtown Charleston:

“... Sergeant Jasper Apartments is designed to meet a need in Charleston for a new type of living ...” he announced in a quarter-page ad attributed to his Beach Company real estate business.

“... The Sergeant Jasper Apartments building means more to Charleston than a change in the skyline, and its value goes beyond physical improvement in housing. It’s a symbol of progress and points the way to unlimited opportunities in real estate ... it accelerates the pace of progress ...” declares another ad attributed to the Worth Agency insurance company, another of Mr. Long’s enterprises.

Obviously, J.C. Long was wrong.

His imposing, 14-story building with 229 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments still protrudes like a giant sore thumb from the Holy City skyline.

And even though the monstrosity is finally coming down, what Mr. Long’s heirs at the Beach Company propose to replace the skyscraper with is a blistering topic of conversation among peninsula residents today. An entire auditorium full of them made that obvious Thursday night at the Charleston Museum during a meeting called by City Councilman Mike Seekings to get their take on the future of the site.

Prior to the meeting, Seekings’ aides passed out a Beach Company-produced architect’s rendering of the proposed new complex, along with a Beach Company-produced list of questions and answers about the city’s approval process.

Beach Company spokesman Kent Johnson has been busy in recent weeks visiting with neighborhood associations, trying to convince them that it’s a good idea to replace the imposing 14-story structure that accommodated approximately 250 residents with three apartment buildings. And there are a couple of extras — a 25,000- to 35,000-square-foot supermarket and parking garage for 600 residents as well as an unknown number of shoppers who would use the supermarket 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Two of the new apartment buildings — along with the supermarket and parking garage — would be built on the 3.5 acres between Moultrie Playground and Barre Street. One would be seven stories, not counting elevator shafts and roof design, and the other would be four stories, plus elevator shafts. etc.

The third apartment building would be built on the filled high ground from Barre Street west to Lockwood Drive and the Ashley River.

Mr. Johnson told one of the neighborhood associations that the building overlooking the Ashley River was originally planned as an office complex that would include Beach Company headquarters.

After telling everyone he had not yet decided how he felt about the situation, Seekings offered a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation explaining the city’s approval process for the Beach Company’s proposed “planned unit development,” also called a PUD.

When he got to the part about a company-financed traffic study that concluded the massive new apartment/supermarket complex would improve traffic flow in the area, the audience responded with what one might call a Charleston version of a Bronx cheer.

Seekings also handed out a survey to the members of the audience, asking if they were for or against the Beach Company PUD. If opposed, each respondent was asked to list three reasons why. Most of the audience lingered a while after the meeting, as they were busy filling out their questionnaires.

The city Planning Commission will consider the Beach Company’s request after a public hearing that starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the third floor of the Charleston County School District building at 75 Calhoun St.

After this stage in the process, the Beach Company will begin working on actual designs before making additional public presentations, according to Seekings.

“You need to make sure there’s lots of space in that hearing room,” one woman told the councilman, “because we will be there.”

John M. Burbage is a life-long journalist who lives in downtown Charleston and owns a farm and wildlife preserve in Hampton County, S.C. He may be reached at jburbage@postandcourier.com.