The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch


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Zoning Board Meeting, July 6

What does it take to stop the continual "Developer requests for Zoning Variances"?
Warwick Jones, Editor

What does it take to stop all of these variance requests? The mega-building planned for the site of old Chapter II bookstore has drawn the ire of many city residents. Yesterday the developer went before the board seeking variances and exceptions to allow a structure containing 60,000 square feet without meeting the required parking and entry/exit driveway width under the current zoning requirements. For reference, the old bookstore has floor space of 6000 square feet.

A solid turnout of residents…….
Well, there was a large turnout of residents, particularly from nearby Ansonborough. All spoke against the project and the difficulties that would ensue for the neighborhood if the variances and exceptions were approved. The Historic Foundation and the Preservation Society representatives spoke against approval. It was not enough! Mr. Altman, a board member, expressed reservations about allowing the variances and exceptions but nevertheless felt the developer should be given another chance to revisit the issues. He should try to find other parking in a closer garage so that the developer would not need to "request a zoning variance for less than the required on-site parking". Mr. Krawchek, the chairman, said he would go along with the deferral, but really couldn't see why the board should approve the variance and exceptions. He was for a "Denial of Request" right there and then. Notwithstanding, the board voted for deferral.

…….but it was discouraging
It was discouraging for residents. They made a strong effort to protect their neighborhood, prepared a solid case and were supported by two of the most important entities concerned with preserving the livability and charm of Charleston. They also had support of the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association. Now they have to do it again when the Board meets. One wonders why? If the Board truly felt that it could not approve the request of the developer, it should have rejected the application, not held residents and others hostage to further meetings, and who knows, maybe further deferrals.

Parking is the major issue
So what was at issue? Mr. Glick wants to build a four story building that is large by the standards of Charleston. The law says that a building of the size planned must have 99 car spaces provided within 400 feet of the building. The developer is providing 18 spaces on the ground floor of the building but is seeking to lease space from other parking areas for the balance. The law says that any lease must be for the long term - that is for 10 years or more. Well the developer can only get spaces for 53 within 400 feet. The rest are much further away, in the Majestic Square parking garage and on the lot at the corner of Hasell and Maiden Lane. The developer was unable to get long term leases on enough nearby parking spaces.

The streets will become more congested with parked cars
"Come on," said the residents! People are not going to park at Majestic Square and walk to the building, particularly in the heat of summer. They may not even park in the other leased lots. Many people will do what others are doing, park on the streets. As the residents of Ansonborough have noted, this is happening too much in their borough. Residents cannot find parking because of the spill from surrounding areas. The Glick development will exacerbate this problem as will some other projects in the wind. The leasing of car spaces will not create additional parking. Cars will be displaced from these existing areas and add to the spill. A real estate agent attending the hearing pointed out that values in the Borough were already being hurt by the parking issue. Who wants to buy a house there when you can't park a car? (By the way, isn't an adverse affect on property values a test for disallowing variances?)

Commonality of opinion
It is hard in retrospect to determine who said what amongst the residents, but there was a commonality of opinion that this project was not good for Ansonborough or maybe the City. What IS the purpose of zoning? Isn't it there to protect the residents and the environment, to maintain standards, to make the city livable? It is not there for property developers to CONSISTENTLY circumvent! Why won't the board enforce zoning? There is no hardship in this development. The developer can reduce the size of the building and meet less onerous parking requirements. He doesn't need to build a mega-building, squeezing out every possible dollar of profit. However, SINCE THE DEVELOPER HAS ALREADY RECEIVED APPROVAL OF "Height and Mass" on a project that the neighborhood has continually been in opposition to, it certainly seems that he should be required to place all 99 of the required parking places within the building's footprint, even if it means sacrificing the second floor to parking as well. The better choice it would seem, would be to scale back the footprint and mass of the building which would also reduce the required parking. This would fit better into the neighborhood as well.

No contrition by the developer
The developer showed no contrition, Indeed it was quite the opposite. He regarded the residents almost as professional protesters and their arguments as old and tired. He warned to not even visit the issue of the building's dimensions. It had been approved by the BAR and that was that!

Scheduling issues
Interesting isn't it, that the BAR can give approval before the Zoning Board approves variance and exception issues that will affect the size of the building. Surely it should be the other way around. There was opposition to the size of the building at BAR meetings and a set back was required for the 4th floor. Considering the very modest reduction in the square footage of the floor - less than 6% - the set back was modest to say the least.

It seems a common ploy with developers to bring these matters before boards during the summer months and particularly holiday periods when many people are out of town. And it may have been just a coincidence that the July 4 holiday was the day before the Zoning Board meeting. But at the next meeting of the Board, some of the other issues also will be addressed by residents such as the adequacy of on-site parking and access to the drive-in bank on the first floor.

Well, the residents feel strongly about this parking issue, and some of the other issues. And despite his patronising attitude towards the residents, it would seem that the developer may well have to revisit the building size if he can't get the variances and exceptions he wants.

Next meeting should see more community participation
The next meeting of the Zoning Board will probably see even greater community representation. It is unlikely that residents will lie down to be rolled over by this developer or any other.

Editor's Note. The Board meeting referred to above was held on July 5. The Post & Courier published a story on July 15, 10 days after the meeting. By coincidence, a letter was sent to the Mayor and Councilors on July 14 complaining about the relaxed attitide of the Board to ruling on variances and exceptions.