Speak out on Sgt. Jasper project

FILE PHOTO/The Sergeant Jasper building is scheduled for demolition. A plan to develop the property is the subject of a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at the Charleston Museum.

Any plan to develop one of historic Charleston’s primary gateways is sure to be controversial. But a plan that razes the 225-unit Sergeant Jasper apartment building and replaces it with 454 residential units, a parking garage and a grocery store is sure to ratchet up that public tension.

So it’s particularly important for the public to weigh in on the project with accurate information. After all, the public will deal with increased traffic, additional pressure on area parking and a major change in how the city’s downtown skyline is viewed, if this project is built.

City Councilman Mike Seekings says people have been given conflicting information about the Sergeant Jasper and the city’s process for considering it.

So he is leading a meeting, open to the public, at 5:30 p.m. today at the Charleston Museum. He plans to describe objectively the process, including zoning designations and changes. Mr. Seekings will ask both the city and the Beach Company, which owns the property and wants to develop it, to make brief presentations. He will invite questions and comments and then ask those in attendance to submit written votes on whether they would approve the project. Those who vote against the development will be asked to list three reasons.

Mr. Seekings says the results of the discussion and the vote will inform the way he votes on the plan when it goes to City Council.

The Preservation Society of Charleston last week alerted its members and the public to its grave concerns about high density, sparse green space, increased traffic and an approval process that diminishes the public’s ability to have input.

The Beach Company challenged a number of the PSC’s allegations, defending the manner in which the project is being analyzed by the city and the traffic study used to justify the project’s density and parking provisions.

But while Beach Company representatives have spoken to the associations for both neighborhoods that abut the site — Charlestowne and Harleston Village — plenty of residents appear unconvinced. They worry that the buildings, which will cover almost the entire lot and will be seven stories high in the interior of the block, will obscure views of the city from Lockwood Boulevard and Broad Street. The present building is tall, but it fills only a small portion of the lot.

They are also anxious about what restrictions, if any, would be placed on the grocery store planned for the complex. What will its hours be? How will trucks make deliveries without clogging traffic? Will food be consumed on premises? Alcohol?

Mr. Seekings recognizes the significance of the Sergeant Jasper property and what is built there. Both the public and the Beach Company would do well to learn all they can at today’s meeting and then push to make sure the project is right for the site and healthy for the neighborhood.