The irony didn’t escape anyone: The Planning Commission didn’t plan for enough seating at its meeting last Thursday.
It met in a room that was larger than its usual meeting space, but it still couldn’t accommodate the hundreds of people who attended to speak about the proposed Sergeant Jasper development.
In the city’s defense, no one knew just how many people would come — or how passionate they would be about being able to voice their opinions on the planned mixed use development — 454 apartments, a parking garage, a grocery store and an office building at the west end of Broad Street in the city’s historic district.
The city knows now.
It is believed that more people attended last week’s meeting than any other in recent memory. Forewarned is forearmed, and the city needs to engage a space for the next Planning Commission meeting that will handle even more people than attended the aborted one since some predict the number will grow.
A few ideas: Memminger Auditorium can seat 800; the Sotille Theatre, 785; the Charleston Music Hall, 918; and the Riviera Theatre more than any of them.
The Charleston Museum auditorium can seat 272, but that’s too much of a gamble. The 200-seat Charleston County School District Board room was far too small.
The Beach Company wants to raze the 13-story Sgt. Jasper building and redevelop the site and the one next to it that has not been developed before. The company has welcomed community input and says it is “essential that the community’s voice continues to be heard as we progress through the rezoning process.”
And the public’s interest doesn’t appear to have waned in the least. Indications are that the vast majority of those in attendance wanted to speak against the project — specifically its size, density and the traffic it will generate.
Planning Commission Chairman Frank McCann cautioned people at last week’s meeting that the majority doesn’t always rule.
But certainly a project that is opposed by the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Harleston Village and Charlestowne neighborhood associations (which flank the property) deserves intense scrutiny. It must enhance, not detract from, the neighborhoods. It must not be given variances just to suit the developers. And it must be proved worthy of changing the city’s own Century V vision plan, which was revised in 2011 and calls for much less density in that area. That alone is a daunting challenge.
The city’s elected and appointed officials should not compromise on the level of project review — and the public should make sure they don’t.