Almost every Thursday, people with plans to build in the city of Charleston go to the Technical Review Committee for guidance.
The committee, which is composed of representatives from various city departments, exists to help developers maneuver through the city’s different permitting and design processes.
It advises them of everything from fire codes to traffic, preservation and stormwater requirements.
The best advice the committee could give the Beach Company when it meets this week would be to slow down and deal first with a complicated zoning debate that is brewing over its plans for the Sergeant Jasper site on Broad Street.
The company is in the process of taking down the 14-story Sergeant Jasper apartment building in hopes of redeveloping the property.
A committee of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association (CNA) has analyzed the proposal and concluded that it does not comply with the Charleston Zoning Ordinance, the Century V Comprehensive Plan, the Preservation Plan, the Downtown Plan or even state law.
The city’s Planning Commission is to consider changing the city’s 3X zoning designation for that site at a May 18 special meeting. The designation allows for very tall buildings — possibly 20 stories in the case of the Sergeant Jasper.
Even Mayor Joe Riley has said that a 20-story building on that site is too tall.
Among the CNA findings:
■ The city’s zoning ordinance requires uses “compatible with residential areas.” A 20-story residential tower and 118,000 square feet of office space of unspecified use, 40,000 square feet of retail space and 780 parking spaces are not compatible with the adjacent historic residential neighborhoods.
■ If the city were to somehow conclude that the use is compatible, the city’s ordinance could be challenged under state law, which instructs that such ordinances, among other things, “prevent overcrowding of land, to avoid concentration of population, and to lessen congestion in the streets.” Also to “protect and preserve scenic, historic or ecologically sensitive areas.”
■ Zoning regulations must be in accordance with the jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan. In Charleston, that plan calls for projects to complement the neighborhood setting, reflect the neighborhood scale, and in areas designated as urban, as is the Sergeant Jasper site, have a density from eight to 12 dwelling units per acre.
■ The city’s Preservation Plan, which was last updated in 2008, says buildings out of scale with their surroundings are not acceptable. Nor are buildings that “interrupt the view of the city’s historic skyline.”
The CNA also said that a new traffic study and drainage study are necessary.
The Beach Company has held that it has the right to build the project as presented, based on its current zoning.
Given the convincing argument to the contrary set forth by the CNA — and the concerns the company is hearing from neighbors, preservationists and now legal experts — pausing to resolve the zoning complications makes good sense.
The best course would be for the Beach Company to back off its ill-advised 20-story project.