The Genie in the Bottle
Proposed Harbor View assisted living facility shot down amidst public outcry
By Charlie Morrison
In what proved to be a resounding victory for opponents of the further development of Harbor View Road, the City of Charleston’s Planning Commission, last Wednesday, voted down an application to rezone the vacant, 2.6 acre site located at 1387 Harbor View Lane from Single-Family Residential (SR-1) to that of Diverse Residential elderly housing (DR-4).
Residents offered up a series of criticisms of the plan that were nothing if not wide in their variety, however the collection of critiques shared a common thread. For opponents of the plan, such as City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, to permit the rezoning of 1387 Harbor View Lane is to step on the most slippery of slopes. One false step could trigger a quickening of the ongoing erosion of James Island’s rural character. With respect to residential projects, opening up the property to new zoning is akin to opening Pandora’s Box when it comes to controlling what ultimately is constructed at the site.
“It could be a pretty massive building. Answers to questions over whether it is appropriate for the location and how high the building will be … he might not even know. But the problem is if you allow a rezoning to go forward you’ve just let the genie out of the bottle,” commented City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson in an interview with JIM. “I’m nervous with okaying a rezoning without any kind of site plan and for something that is already causing the heartburn that we’re seeing with this,” continued Wilson.
“It is certainly not out of the question to rezone a parcel without a site plan, but I think with this one we need a bit more information and at the very, very, bare minimum surrounding neighbors need to be talked with,” concluded Wilson.
Opposing the application, submitted by property owner MLA Legacy Properties, Ltd. and developer Easlan Capital were dozens of island residents, amongst them were Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey, along with James Island Town Councilmembers Darren Troy Mullinax and Mary Beth Berry. That trio joined their City colleague in blasting the plan.
Island residents too, were thorough in their inquisition of the plan. Residents served up criticisms such as the lot’s location within a “velocity” flood plain, the lack of a traffic study being completed … even the habitat of the wood stork as justification to shoot down the plan.
The issue of transparency, or rather the perceived lack thereof too played a role in the proceedings. Harbor View Road-based attorney Margaret Fabri presented the Commission with a small packet outlining a number of arguments against rezoning the lot. Aslo within the packet was a photograph she’d taken three days prior, documenting irregularities involving the sign placed at the property announcing the upcoming public hearing on the rezoning.
The photograph revealed that the sign gave incorrect information in regards to every detail of the rezoning meeting, from the date of the public hearing which stated “December 19, 2012,” to the property’s official County property identification (TMS) number, to the very address of the lot in question.
In the end, regardless of how it happened, the loss of the proper sign announcing the meeting had little bearing on attendance. James Island’s extensive network of preservation-minded individuals and groups got the word out about the meeting on their own, and in the end dozens filled the room.
A conglomeration of folks from “Will You Miss These Trees?,” the group behind “Save Harbor View Road,” as well as the respective home owner’s associations from the Stiles Point, Harbor Creek and Harbor View Circle neighborhoods joined other concerned James Islanders in communicating the importance of attending last Wednesday’s meeting, translating to a packed house at Planning’s 75 Calhoun St. auditorium.
Though Fabri suggested that the body at least defer the hearing, with no way of determining who was culpable for the incident, Planning Commission Chair Francis McCann decided to proceed with the meeting.
With the two other municipalities relevant to the issue having first offered up their positions against the rezoning, County Councilman Joe Qualey was one of the last to speak. His words put the de-facto nail in the coffin on the assisted living facility project.
“You heard from the City, you heard from the Town, and now you’re hearing from the County … We represent a huge majority of residents against this rezoning, and we urge you to deny this application,” said Qualey. Much to the chagrin of McCann, his words drew applause.
With the public commentary period over, Commissioner Barbara Ellison immediately moved to deny the application.
“The elderly housing would be a nice use for, but this is the wrong place,” began Ellison, before referencing another plan for an assisted living facility, a plan that ultimately fell by the wayside in favor of the much maligned though recently City-approved Woodfield “Gathering Place” PUD development.
“So I understand when Miss Wilson says the genie can get out of the bottle. Yes, we need Senior housing, but look at that piece of land … What an intrusion, to place is some kind of massive building there. It’s totally inappropriate and I’ve thereby move to deny it.”
Her words clearly resonated with her fellow Commissioners, as McCann cast the lone, dissenting vote in favor of the project.
For more information on this or any other project City Planning’s involved in, you can visit the the City of Charleston Zoning Office at 75 Calhoun St. in downtown Charleston. Questions regarding this project should be directed to the City’s Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, available during regular business hours, at 724-3787 or through their website, found at http://www.charleston-sc.gov/pc.
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