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Neighborhood Associations urge relocation of proposed School of Architecture

How about it Mayor Riley? Clemson?
Warwick Jones, Editor

Unprecedented in recent times, five neighborhood associations joined together last night to voice their opposition to construction to house a School of Architecture on a site in Ansonborough. The School, part of Clemson University, is planning to build on a site given to it by the City and which is opposite the Spoleto Building on George Street.

George Street is already crammed with traffic
A public meeting was held yesterday evening to allow the architects retained by Clemson to obtain the views of residents. They got them, and probably more forcefully than they expected. Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association (HANA) led the opposition. Its submission was posted in a note on this site yesterday. In summary, it said that George Street was not appropriate for the new school, nor appropriate for a modern building. Ansonsborough is an historic district with largely historic buildings. A large modern building would detract from this ambience. Traffic along George Street was already very heavy and congestion would be exacerbated by the completion of the new College of Charleston Basketball arena, the 71unit condominium development on the site of the old "Y", and a College of Charleston dormitory on the corner of George and St. Phillips streets. Be real! There would be only 6 parking spaces provided at the school. This would come nowhere near to absorbing the traffic the school would generate. Where else will students and faculty park except in the neighborhood?

Put the School on Ansonborough Field
HANA suggested that the new school should be located on Ansonborough Field. There would be parking in the nearby garage, no opposition to a modern building and the new school could generate foot traffic and help the struggling Aquarium and nearby businesses. There was also a shuttle bus service between the parking garage and the College of Charleston. More importantly, provision had been made in planning development on the Field for a school. Why couldn't this be the Clemson School of Architecture?

Solid community support
Just about everybody agreed with HANA - City Council member Henry Fishburne, and representatives of the Neighborhood associations from the French Quarter, Harleston Village, Garden District and Charlestown. The Preservation Society also was there and supported HANA's proposal. Conspicuous by its absence was the Historic Charleston Foundation. It certainly knew of the public hearing. One wonders that considering what it has done for Ansonborough in the past why it chose to remain silent on this issue?

The owner of the property next to the George Street site expressed fear as to what would happen to his house during construction. He noted that St. Phillips Church sustained damage from a construction project 150 feet distant from the church. His house was only some feet away from the proposed school building. And what about his bed and breakfast business?

Residents offer no compromise
The architects seemingly were unprepared for the hostility towards the George Street location. They listened sympathetically and stated that the proposals made by HANA and the neighborhood groups had merit. But they, the architects, had no authority to speak on behalf of Clemson University. They had a contract to design a building for the George Street site. The principal asked a number of times for suggestions as to what residents would like on the George Street site if Clemson opposed moving to another site. But her request was in vain. Clearly the residents were not prepared for any compromise. The architects agreed to relate to Clemson what transpired at the meeting. But they noted that even if Clemson were prepared to give up the George Street site, the City still had to approve the "sale" of the site on Ansonborough Field.

Council member Fishburne did not seem to think that it would be such a large problem for the City. "Request for Proposals" for developing the Field had recently closed but he said there were precedents for amendments. The City is presently planning construction at both ends of the Field and which will include 2 hotels, condominiums for "sale" and for affordable housing, and commercial buildings. Some public or semi-public buildings were also part of the development. There was also the suggestion that maybe the situation could be eased by a simple land swap. The City takes back the land on George Street and gives the University a site on Ansonborough Field.

What investment?
Sheila Kennedy, a principal of the architect firm, also spoke of the large investment that Clemson had already made in the George Street site but considering the University paid the City only $2 nobody seemed to take this claim too seriously. She also spoke about the plans of Spoleto and the School to share certain facilities. For example, the School would be able to use the second floor of the Spoleto Building for conferences when the Spoleto Festival was not in progress. Spoleto would be able to use rooms in the School for rehearsals when the festival was in progress.

HANA and the neighborhood associations will now take their concern to the City and Clemson and seek their support.

Is something sinister simmering?
Why is the School at the proposed site on George Street providing so little parking? Nobody could possibly believe that such limited parking could adequately serve this site. And does anybody really believe that enrolment at the School will be limited indefinitely to 26 students? Is there an undisclosed long-range plan? Do you know that colleges now have the right to "condemn" buildings and acquire them through the right of 'eminent domain'? The College of Charleston has already done this. The law was changed in South Carolina a year or so ago giving colleges this right. The College of Charleston acknowledges this when it "condemned" the long term lease it had with "Yo Burrito", the popular restaurant serving mainly college students. So let's assume that a new school for architecture is built. What is there to stop it from declaring a need for more space and then condemning the building next door? It is an historic property and in excellent example of a Charleston single. Too bad, we need it for the School and parking. The neighborhood can howl. But all it could do is shed tears.

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