Heed residents, change plan

A bike rider rides down Broad Street as he prepares to pass the old Sargeant Jasper Apartments. (Brad Nettles/File)

When J.C. Long began construction of the 14-story Sergeant Jasper apartment building in 1949, Mayor William McG. Morrison was delighted: “This excellent apartment building ... is so badly needed.”

If only the next project proposed for that site were something to celebrate.

The Beach Company, which is derived from J.C. Long’s business, wants to build a mammoth, mostly residential development that is far too dense for the spot, at the end of Broad Street between two low-density neighborhoods.

The Sergeant Jasper, now shuttered and earmarked for demolition, to the visual relief of the area, contained 220 units, most of them quite small.

The proposed project on the same site would more than double the number of units to 454, and one can only assume those units would be larger in today’s market.

Hundreds of residents of neighboring areas have voiced their opposition to the project, citing its size, density and the traffic it will generate.

The Preservation Society of Charleston and the Historic Charleston Foundation both disapprove of plans as presented, as do the Harleston Village Neighborhood Association and many members of the Charlestowne neighborhood.

Even the city’s own vision for itself, as represented in its Century V plan, does not allow for such dense development in that area. That plan was first approved in 2001, updated and reapproved in 2011. But the developer is asking the city to change the Sergeant Jasper tract to an “urban core” zone. The only places on the peninsula so designated are King Street and the hospital district, but that change must happen in order for the site to be zoned as a Planned Urban Development.

City Councilman Mike Seekings, who lives in Harleston Village and represents people there and in the Charlestowne neighborhood, held a public meeting last week to clarify the process by which this application is being considered by the city. The Charleston Museum auditorium was packed to overflowing, and all but a handful of the 300 or so cast ballots for or against the project.

The most frequent reasons were traffic, density and “unknowns.” Details have been scant about the size of apartments, the rent that will be charged, and traffic ingress and egress. The developer has provided little information about a proposed 35,000-square-foot grocery store — what hours it would be open, how service trucks would be accommodated and whether it would serve food to be consumed on premises.

The Beach Company contends that the city is satisfied with traffic studies that indicate the project will not pose problems. The company has said that residents would be so conveniently located that they wouldn’t need cars, but certainly many — probably most — would have them anyway. Indeed, the plan calls for 700 parking spaces in a multi-story garage.

Those cars, and service vehicles, will have to feed into Broad Street traffic, which is already backed up at certain times of day.

Opponents say that a project that needs multiple zoning adjustments must not be appropriate for the site. In addition to persuading the city to change the Century V plan to increase its density and to change the zoning designation, the Beach Company needs special permission to build higher than zoning allows for part of the project.

Those requests are to be considered by the city’s Planning Commission at 5 p.m. today at 75 Calhoun Street. The city has wisely moved the meeting to the Charleston County School District second floor board room to accommodate people who want to be heard.

If the commission grants the PUD zoning, the developer would avoid appearances before the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Beach Company would be free to fill in the details according to the project outline.

But it would still need approval from the city’s Board of Architectural Review.

The City of Charleston is wrapping up nine months of work to update its tourism management plan. One reason residents have worked so hard with the city is because the dramatic increase in tourism has crowded the peninsula streets and sidewalks.

The Beach Company’s proposal to allow unprecedented density in one of the few low-density, residential areas on the peninsula needs to be considered in greater context of how many people downtown Charleston can absorb.

And those who should know best — the people who live and work downtown — have made it clear that this project is too large and too intrusive.