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City Council, June 21

A Hobson’s Choice over Sergeant Jasper Development
Understandably, the latest compromise was accepted
Marc Knapp

Last night’s meeting had the promise of being long. It was long and indeed unnecessarily so, though not entirely the fault of the City. We can only guess at the attendance but it was probably over a hundred. And the majority of the attendees were there because of the proposed bike lane over the Legare Bridge.

The bike enthusiasts were wasting their time. The issue was not on the agenda. Notwithstanding, about 40 or so rose to speak in favor of the lane closure and creation of a bike lane. We don’t know what brought them out en masse but it may have been a comment by columnist Brian Hicks. In a story in the Post and Courier last week (deriding the lane closure) he suggested that enthusiasts go to City Council on Tuesday to make their case.

We will make no attempt to relate their comments. Most comments have been heard before though some speakers attempted to make much of the new traffic study. Like Mr. Hicks, we think that the traffic study and conclusion had significant shortcomings with measurements confined to a few hours in two days. It did nothing to explain the significant delays suffered by many motorists over the trial period. We think that City Council members were also unimpressed by the report and we’ll wager that Council votes against any closure, probably at its next meeting.

And if we had the opportunity, we would have wagered that Council approved the plan for the Sergeant Jasper. It was a compromise between the City and the Beach Company. A high rise will be constructed to a similar height to the existing building, but dwelling units will be added through adjacent buildings, and a 0.75 acre park created at the front of the site.

Like most people, we would have preferred a different plan for the site – less density and height. But I saw a lot of merit in the original submission which provided for substantial retail. This would have serviced the occupants of the dwelling units and lessened the need for travel outside the complex. But the City had its back to the wall. If the Beach Company exercised its right to build that which zoning regulations allowed, it may have been an ungainly development. The City, and neighborhood and preservation groups attempted compromise but none was reached with the Beach Company. Ultimately the Court reinforced the company’s position and with a decision that threatened the viability of the Board of Architectural Review.

This blog site has frequently been a critic of the City’s planning and zoning. And we can be very critical of the Beach Company’s plan. But we won’t criticize Council for accepting the latest plan. It also binds the BAR in accepting the conceptual plan for the development but the BAR will retain the right to rule on the final design and materials.

Predictably, the preservation and neighborhood groups came out to oppose the plan. And indeed, we suspect that most Council members had sympathy for their views. But they knew the legal challenge and the possible cost if they continued to thwart the Beach Company. The cost could be tens of millions of dollars!!

Council voted at the Special Meeting called for 7.30 pm to consider the Sergeant Jasper Plan. The bike crowd, and other items on the agenda assured the Council meeting that began at 5 pm ran on till then. Come the vote, only Council member Seekings voted against the proposal. He claimed that he had not enough time to assess the plan. We’d argue as to whether this matters. There was no more room or time for compromises. The Beach Company was about to pull the trigger. Accept that the City did the best it could, or face the unpleasant consequences. Clearly it did not want to do the latter.

As part of the agreement, the City added part of the property at Sergeant Jasper to the Gateway Overlay. The overlay will allow up to 324 dwelling units compared with 80 units and commercial use presently.

Council also took a step to undo some of the potential damage from its Gathering Place (GP) Zoning, The property at Maybank Highway being developed by Core Properties will now be developed within a Planned Unit Development and not with a GP zoning. The PUD is complex but it is likely that there is some but perhaps modest relief to the high density and high traffic flows that pertained to the GP zoning. Notwithstanding, Council member Wilson was unhappy with it and unlike the rest of Council, voted against the PUD.

The City’s Hotel Plan was also on the agenda but some Council members signaled unhappiness about its substance, and discussion was deferred while the City takes another look.

On a separate matter, while waiting on Council to come out of executive session, i spoke to Fire Chief Brack about speed humps and their hindrance to the response by fire crews.

Citizens who want speed humps need to know that each hump delays a truck by about 10 seconds. i find this unacceptable when you figure six humps delays the response time by one minute. This is an eternity when seconds really do count. It's truly the difference between life and death. People need to go to the closest fire station to their home and count the number of speed humps between the station and their home. The lack of speed can surely kill.

The reduction in response time will ultimately increase the cost for fire protection - a need for more fire stations, a reduction in the insurance ratings and higher insurance costs, a need for more equipment, and higher maintenance costs. Think long and hard before you request speed humps on your street.

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