Sgt. Jasper: first things first

The Beach Co.’s new plan for redeveloping its Sergeant Jasper property west of Colonial Lake includes a new building about six-stories taller than its existing, abandoned apartment building. It also includes 118,000 square feet of office space and 80 luxury residences. (Antiunovich Associates/LS3P/Provided)

The Beach Company is in a hurry to get its highly unpopular plans approved for the Sergeant Jasper site. Thankfully, neighborhood groups and preservationists are working just as hard to slow things down.

The Beach Company has a right to use its property as permitted by current zoning — if the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) concurs. But doing so without waiting for the city to re-evaluate the zoning designation would be a mistake. The city shouldn’t put the cart before the horse.

The Beach Company is scheduled to present its plans to the BAR Wednesday. Be assured that representatives of every neighborhood association in the vicinity will be at Burke High School to call for the board to disapprove it.

At question is a massive complex on the Sergeant Jasper property at the corner of Broad and Barre streets. It would include an 18-story residential tower, 118,000 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet for a retail facility, and a large parking garage. According to Tim Keane, Charleston’s director of planning, preservation, and sustainability, the only approval the developer requires is from the BAR.

The BAR should reject the project since its height, mass and scale are not “in harmony with the prevailing character of Charleston” as is required.

A letter signed by the Cannonborough-Elliotborough Neighborhood Association, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Harleston Village Neighborhood Association, French Quarter Neighborhood Association and the Radcliffeborough Neighborhood Association points out that the residential tower would be “twice as high as Charleston Place, higher than St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s steeples. ... The Beach Company proposes this on a relatively small lot sandwiched between two historic residential neighborhoods, located at the already severely congested entrance to the historic center of Charleston.”

Opponents also point out that the project flies in the face of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, its Century V plan, the Downtown Plan and the city’s Preservation Plan.

If the BAR is not inclined to reject the proposal this week, as it ought to, the board at least should defer action until the city Planning Commission considers whether the site’s applicable zoning designation should be eliminated and a more appropriate 55-foot height restriction applied. The discussion will take place at a special meeting on May 18 at Burke High School — not exactly a long wait.

The 1940s-era Sergeant Jasper apartment building is being taken down and its removal is not being lamented. At 13 stories, it is too tall for the site, and it is architecturally unappealing.

But the proposed development is way over the top in terms of height and density.

Going through government channels can be time-consuming and frustrating, but in most cases it helps ensure a better final product.

Beach Company officials might find that the process results in a development plan that suits them even better than the one on the drawing board now. The city’s planning guidelines were drawn for good reasons.

Charleston’s peninsula has taken more than 300 years to become what it is. Hasty decisions regarding a key entrance to the historic city would be a mistake.