The Standard apartments on Maybank Highway with a “Gathering Place” zoning caused a justified outcry of opposition when 240 units of commercial and residential development on 4.72 acres appeared.
However, before the “dust” at The Standard site had even settled, another developer, Core Property Capital out of Atlanta, proposed an adjacent apartment complex with 340 commercial and residential units and 150 additional town houses on 10.5 acres of property. This development was planned despite being located on one of the most heavily traveled and congested roads on James Island.
Over 1,200 residents of the Town of James Island and City of Charleston quickly signed a petition in opposition to such ill-conceived development.
To its credit, and with the stalwart help of Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, council passed a 60-day moratorium on this level of density.
But for whatever reason, nothing occurred during that moratorium to address a better plan for this parcel of land.
After the inauguration of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg in January, an advisory committee was formed to address the “Gathering Place” ordinance. An extension of the moratorium until May 7 was passed by City Council and the advisory committee was charged with drafting an ordinance to replace virtually all “Gathering Place” designations, and specifically charged with examining what would be appropriate at the Maybank Highway site.
Unfortunately, and unknown to the public, the advisory committee included both of the developers of the property in question, as well as landscape architects who had contracts with The Standard and with Indigo Hall, a 140-unit assisted living center that is also planned for this property.
In point of fact, the public had no knowledge of who was on this advisory committee, hand picked by the City Planning Department, until the committee announced its proposed revised ordinance for a mixed use zoning designation called “Mixed Use 3-Centers (MU-3/C).”
It is clear, after a careful reading of the revised ordinance, that “MU-3/C” is worse than the “Gathering Place” designation in terms of density. What was done with “MU-3/C” is nothing less than sleight of hand. What was taken away with one hand as to units per acre was given back with the other.
This was accomplished by giving the developer “bonus units” for doing things during the development process that are basic requirements for every other developer’s development. For instance, Core Property Capital could obtain six more units per acre by merely “preserving or creating riparian buffers.”
Getting to these six extra units would require doing such things as providing “appropriate pet waste disposal stations to prevent pet waste from entering the riparian buffer ...”
Through this “bonus unit” process, the developer could easily achieve the maximum permitted density of 45 units per acre. This would mean Core Property Capital could put more than 450 units on its 10.5 acres.
At the March 10 City Council meeting, City Council and the mayor wisely agreed that the revision of the “Gathering Place” ordinance should be taken out of the hands of the City Planning Department and given to two City Council standing committees.
Therefore, at 4 p.m. today, the Community Development Committee will discuss the revision of the “Gathering Place” ordinance and the revision of its proposed substitute, the “MU-3/C” ordinance.
Then, on Tuesday, April 19 at 2 p.m., the standing committee of Traffic and Transportation will discuss this same issue. Both of these meetings are scheduled to take place at City Hall.
The website www.citizensforsensibleplanning.com lists email addresses for all members of the Community Development Committee, the Traffic and Transportation Committee and Mayor Tecklenburg.
Please make your voices heard.
Margaret D. Fabri is director of Citizens for Sensible Planning.