I was disappointed at a recent Charleston City Council meeting at the one-sided opposition to the proposed Sunoco station at the site of the former Piggly Wiggly West of the Ashley. I hope that when stakeholders thoughtfully examine the facts, the city will support the proposed use.
As a property owner at 1290 Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and proud Charleston native, I want what’s best for our city and this neighborhood. Since GDC moved to its present site in 2006, I’ve become deeply concerned about urban blight in the area. Faison’s investment in Ashley Landing and the former Piggly Wiggly site is one of the most positive West Ashley developments in many years. The conversion of the empty Bojangles to Starbucks underscores the economic vitality and potential of this trade area.
At the Council meeting passions were stirred by a handful of vocal residents who ignored several critical facts:
■ The site is severely limited by its triangular configuration, which is not conducive to traditional mercantile uses. If Faison could have leased or developed the site for conventional retailers such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, they would have done so. The site configuration, nominal daily traffic count of about 500 vehicles on the Sumar Street frontage and lack of a traffic light for site ingress and egress have all eliminated any credible takers.
■ An office building or hotel would require structured parking, which would increase costs to a level that market rent would never support.
■ The original design review guidelines suggest aspirational uses such as art galleries, gathering places, lifestyle retail or public parks. The rents simply will not support those uses. The property owners have a right and indeed a fiduciary duty to earn an acceptable return on their investment.
■ The site is zoned commercial, and a gas station/convenience store is permitted. That use is clearly needed as the closest conventional gas stations are more than a mile away down Hwy. 171 or Sam Rittenberg.
■ The proposed plan devotes about 60 percent to landscaping and 40 percent to retail. This is an extremely generous allocation and visually would be a huge positive for the neighborhood.
Sunoco’s proposal represents urgently needed progress in our district. We must lure retailers who will attract customers, generate revenue and support our local economy. The goal of the city’s West Ashley design review process is to support excellent/optimal design. It cannot and should not proscribe specific property uses that current zoning permits.
I’m worried that the city might be on the verge of overstepping its authority and effectively denying the proposed use by requiring design elements that are economically unattainable. My hope is that a careful review of the facts will lead to a well-reasoned, rational decision.
HARRY B. GREGORIE III
President, GDC Home
Sam Rittenberg Boulevard