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City Planning Commission November 18

Chairman blasts City over application for rezoning
Patricia Jones, who covers Planning

For those who live off the Peninsula, the redevelopment of the Chapter 2 bookstore and adjacent site is probably inconsequential. But it is not for most of us that live on the Peninsula. The proposed re-development on the corner of Meeting and Hasell streets is seen as an example of what should not be allowed to happen downtown. It seems that the Planning Commission agreed. Not only did the Commission vote against a rezoning that would have led to higher density condominium development, but the Chairman, Mr. Francis X. McCann was strongly critical of the City for allowing the proposed development to get as far as it had. He said that the project in its present form was a "sin". The changes that were being sought were for purely economic reasons and would do nothing to benefit the City in the longer term.

The original development was for a commercial/retail building encompassing 60,000 sq ft. To put this in perspective, the Chapter 2 bookstore is 6,000 sq ft. The project has been stalled now for some months. After a number of attempts, the developers failed to get the project past the Board of Zoning Appeals. To be allowed to construct a building of the scale proposed, the developers had to provide parking for 99 cars. This they failed to do and their request for variances and exceptions were rejected. One Zoning Board member represented the development as trying to put 10 lbs of potatoes into a 5 lb sack.

Over the past year or so, residents of Ansonborough, and the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association (HANA) opposed the re-development and were supported by the Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) and the Preservation Society.

Members of HANA, HCF and the Preservation Society were there last night and strongly opposed the re-zoning. Speakers for HCF and the Preservation Society stated their concern about the Mixed Use zoning (MU2) that was requested. They felt that the 30 condominiums that most likely would be built over the retail and commercial space was just too dense a use. They also spoke of the inappropriate scale of the building relative to the site and surrounding buildings. Other speakers referred to the continuing traffic problems that were likely to be exacerbated with the other developments that had been approved in the area.

The attorney for the developer seemed to think that most of this was irrelevant. There were no changes in the shape or size of the building and the parking issues would remain largely unchanged and a matter for the Board of Zoning Appeals. It seems that the developers are now hoping to put more parking spaces on site. The attorney also made reference to the fact that there would be less traffic generated by the proposed development with commercial space being replaced by condominiums. But this was a specious argument as one speaker pointed out. The improvement would have been over that relating to the first proposed development. Because the developer could not obtain variances and exceptions relating largely to parking, the development was not possible. So what was the relevance of making a comparison to a development rejected by the Board of Zoning Appeals?

Three members of the Commission had already voiced opinions - two against and one undecided- about the application before the Chairman voiced his opinion. He stated that the City was becoming over-developed. Projects like the one before the Commission was destroying the fabric of the community. One member of the Commission reminded him that it was part of the City's plan to attract more residents to downtown and this project was in keeping with this aim "Would you suggest we turn City Hall into Condominiums Mr. McCann asked? Do you really "get a warm feeling about this project? He opined that the project was about maximizing economic returns and not much else. He did not accept that it was in the best interest of the City in the longer term.

We expect there will be flak flying in City corridors tomorrow and some will be directed at the Planning Commission. But the Commission has served the City and its citizen's well. Thank you.

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