Revive dialogue on Jasper site

This rendering shows "Plan B," including a new park on St. Mary's Field (lower left) with buildings of mixed height in the distance, where the existing Sergeant Jasper building now stands. (Provided)

The latest plan for the Sergeant Jasper site is the best so far. One huge selling point is that it cedes the 2.2-acre St. Mary’s Field to the city for a public park.

It also preserves trees and open space. And its architecture isn’t so blocky as previous plans. But it could be better.

For that, the Beach Company and the public would have to reach an agreement — and the city would have to assure the approval process is expedited without being adulterated.

The Beach Company is understandably eager to pin down a plan and start construction. Time is money in that business.

But it would be a mistake to shortchange the public process that has helped the project evolve so far.

It would also be a mistake if the Beach Company were to try to salvage its earlier proposal for a very tall building (initially 214 feet, reduced to 159 feet) with 80 apartments and lots of office space around it.

That plan, the most objectionable, might be in play again if Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson rules that the Board of Architectural Review overstepped its authority in rejecting it. He held a hearing Friday, but has not issued a ruling.

And the other option, which is in the approval process — renovating the existing building — would leave the eyesore and add commercial buildings that might also be unattractive in order to be compatible with the existing structure. So while the Beach Company is considering three different approaches, only one comes close — the latest one, called Plan B.

Leadership of the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Charlestowne and Harleston Village neighborhood associations believe some realistic suggestions would make Plan B acceptable to both the Beach Company and the public.

City Councilman Mike Seekings, who represents the part of the city where the Sergeant Jasper stands, agrees. “This is the gateway to historic, residential Charleston. It will be the most important project in Charleston for the next 25 years.”

He said the development must be primarily residential, be of excellent design and construction, and be agreeable to all. More discussion is certainly worth the time and effort. Among other things, neighbors would relocate parking that Plan B calls for on the first floors of the tall, U-shaped building, thus reducing the building’s 115-foot height.

Other suggestions are pending preservationists and neighbors receiving information about the number of residential units, the amount of commercial space, parking and workforce housing.

The conversation about what kind of development is best for the site of the Sergeant Jasper at the corner of Broad and Barre streets has been going on for almost three years. On the positive side, that has allowed time for better planning.

But for a developer, time is money. Because the Beach Company emptied the Sergeant Jasper before getting development plans settled, it has lost that rental income. And it has lost time to build what will eventually replace and augment that income.

If the Beach Company agrees to move ahead with Plan B, it will have to get approvals from the city zoning appeals board as well as the BAR and then City Council. In light of that, some have suggested mediation to resolve the issues. But mediation, by its nature, leaves the public out of the conversation until the very end. And, as has been demonstrated by this ongoing process, public input is essential.

It would be a triumph if the company, the public and the city could all agree — and the city could ensure that the process will not drag on too long.

The Sergeant Jasper site replacement will be a signature project that needs to be the best it can be for the neighborhood and the city as a whole.