Brian Hicks’ Nov. 1 column regarding the Sergeant Jasper controversy contains several false premises that should be addressed. He states that the city Planning Commission took an “unprecedented step” to amend the height zoning ordinance affecting the Sergeant Jasper property.
Fact: The Planning Commission is charged with the power and the duty to recommend zoning ordinance amendments to City Council on its own initiative or otherwise. In fact, the Planning Commission was created to serve as an independent body of citizen-volunteers having the expertise and understanding necessary to develop and amend ordinances.
Mr. Hicks contends that pitchfork-bearing neighbors shouldn’t have the ability to rezone property.
Fact: They don’t. However, the public does have the right to express opinions, just as journalists have the right to express theirs. Furthermore, any zoning change recommended by the commission must be approved by City Council, composed of members elected to represent the public. Attendees of a Planning Commission meeting witnessed a laudable example of civil discourse among citizens having opposing views, including the citizens serving on the commission.
Mr. Hicks alleges that many residents “don’t want anything on the site.”
Fact: Hundreds of residents attending public meetings have consistently asked for redevelopment having appropriate height, scale, mass and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. If those parameters sound familiar, it is because Charleston’s zoning ordinance prescribes them as the standards the Board of Architectural Review must apply to proposed plans.
Finally, Mr. Hicks says the Beach Company had no choice but to sue the city and Board of Architectural Review.
Fact: The Beach Company could have chosen to submit a modified plan with appropriate height, scale, mass and neighborhood compatibility. This option would have saved money and time for the owner, the city and the BAR, and would have led to the “realistic solution” Mr. Hicks advocates.
Unfortunately, the Beach Company chose to challenge not only the validity of the BAR decision, but the very constitutionality of Charleston’s long-standing system of safeguarding the welfare of the entire city.