It isn’t just Washington. Apparently the art of compromise is in peril in Charleston as well.
Case in point: the Sergeant Jasper project.
When the Beach Company concluded that the community was strongly opposed to its plans to replace the Sergeant Jasper apartment building with a more dense, mixed-use development, it withdrew its application to the city.
But instead of making changes in search of common ground, the company this week proposed a completely different plan likely to be a lightning rod in a city that loves its low, steepled skyline: a 20-story building — as well as a six-floor parking garage, retail space and a separate office building.
Further, Beach Company President John Darby says he’s dispensing with the neighborhood presentations and going straight through the city’s approval process. When the project is considered by the Board of Architectural Review, he says, people who want to can speak.
There is no question why Mr. Darby should feel frustrated by the process. His company spent months taking the initial plans to neighborhood meetings, and it even made some adjustments based on the public’s ideas.
But neighbors and preservationists were still concerned with the high density of the proposed 482-unit residential building and with what some said was a blocky design. They also thought the buildings were too tall and blocked views of the city’s skyline.
Early reaction to the new design isn’t any more promising than the response to the previous one.
Reporter Robert Behre reports in today’s paper that both Mayor Joe Riley and Historic Charleston Foundation Chief Preservation Officer Winslow Hastie think the building would be too tall.
As for input from the greater public, Mr. Darby said, “There will be some strong opinions no matter what we do.”
He’s right. But in addition to missing out on some stinging criticism, he might also miss out on some helpful information.
Ironically, the new proposal addresses some citizen concerns with the first rendition. Where people criticized the earlier design for having buildings right up against the street, the new one would be set back. It would have only 80 luxury residences as compared to 454 units in the previous design. And the parking garage would have 780 spaces — 50 more than the previous plan.
Indeed, Mr. Darby says he likes the new plan better. And, he says, its height would allow people to take advantage of the sweeping views.
Mr. Darby and the Beach Company are under no legal obligation to gather public input. And the zoning designation for the property allows them to construct what they are proposing — if it wins BAR approval.
But it would be a pity for a local company with long ties to the community to burn bridges without listening to its neighbors — and then trying again.