Cooper James Gets Green Light, But No Stoplight

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Headline on Cooper James PUD

City Council gives Grimball Ext. development final go-ahead, wants SCDOT to put a stoplight in place

By Charlie Morrison

Community Editor

Of the innumerable, large-scale residential developments currently matriculating through Town of James Island, City of Charleston, and Charleston County’s respective project review boards that will soon break ground, the 294-unit Cooper James Planned Unit Development (PUD) project slated for the corner of Grimball Rd. Ext. and Folly Rd. is unique for the opportunity it represents. The property once housed a salvage yard, and though it closed up shop years ago, the property remains littered with the decaying, rusting, often chemical-laden products that were deposited to the property years ago. The property needs cleaning up, something property owner Jack Holst has promised to do if the land is developed. That, along with an agreement between the developer and the neighboring home owner’s association President Richard Magee, seemed to be enough to garner area support for the development, last Tuesday’s meeting of City Council cast doubt upon that theory.

Typically the loudest opponents of such a large-scale project are the surrounding neighborhood’s residents, in this case however, their concerns seemed to be assuaged, at least as of a week ago. According to residents, however, a November 19 letter signed by Magee endorsing the project was submitted without the approval of the HOA as a whole. In his letter, Magee stated to developer Associated Developers, Inc. representative Chris Phillips that the developer “had made all of the adjustments to this development that Ocean Neighbors residents have requested at our meetings.” In asserting his appreciation, Magee cites the developer’s willingness to address concerns over buffers, building heights, green space and even the mitigation of mosquitoes as principal reasons the HOA President signed off on the plan.

Tuesday’s meeting of Council rendered the issue moot, however, as Council later voted unanimously in approval of the development. “This property is an interesting one, since it was used as a junk yard originally, most of it was commercially zoned under the County,” said the City’s Director of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability, Tim Keane in addressing Council on the City staff’s review of the project. Prior to that, however, area residents had their say.

“We are extremely concerned about this development,” stated Magee’s replacement, incoming Ocean Neighbors HOA president Jacque Vance, who was the first to address Council.

“The density level that’s being presented is really high,” said Vance. “We have a very serious matter. We are asking you to please table this, give us time to review these documents, and allow us to see what we can do to work with this community to make it a better place.” Vance cited a number of issues in her statement, the predominant of them was traffic.

“We don’t like the traffic that’s there its worse than we’d like it to be, but they make recommendations based on their standards,” said Keane in addressing the issue of traffic. “The data shows that the intersections involved will be operating at an acceptable level of service when the project is done. We’ve been through this before, and the signal won’t be put into place until the SCDOT warrants that are in place have been met.”

James Island-based Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, who played an active role in supposedly bringing thee respective players together on the issue, seemed taken aback by the half-dozen residents who’d come down to City Hall to oppose a project she’d believed they’d signed off on. Wilson opened her address Council in a tone hovering between confusion and frustration, by simply stating“I’m perplexed.”

Wilson directly addressed the issue of the SCDOT’s past unwillingness to place a stoplight at the intersection, noting that area residents had already twice made strong appeals to the SCDOT to signalize the light, to no avail. The City-commissioned traffic study for he project, however, assumes the SCDOT will eventually place a light at the intersection by 2016, something Wilson cast doubt upon.

“The SCDOT has been very stubborn in this matter, a traffic light is desperately needed there, not only for this development but for the general safety of Folly Rd,” said Wilson “I don’t think we can expect it to be undeveloped forever, its just a question of what the development will be.”

For his part, Mayor Joe Riley, Jr. stated he’d do his part in pressuring SCDOT on the issue. “The transformation of the junkyard to residential, with these guidelines, can be a good, positive change. I think, without any question, the traffic signal needs to be there, and I will work with personally to push SCDOT on this issue,” said Riley.

“I think with the school there and the fact that there are high speeds on Folly Rd. at that location warrants it,” continued the Mayor. “The DOT however, comes from the philosophy that roads are designed for cars to travel on and anything that stops traffics impacts this. They’re against traffic lights philosophically to begin with.

For more information on the project to improve the intersection of Folly Road and Grimball Rd., see the project website at www.charleston-sc.gov/shared/docs/0/cooperjamespudguidelines.pdf

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