Stop and Smell the Roadways
Pair of planned projects headline busy year for growth on James Island
By Charlie Morrison
For those on James Island dedicated to preserving the island’s rural feel and the status quo, the past few years have been tough. Last year saw that struggle intensify, as growth projects were vetted at various municipal meeting at a blistering pace. The development and growth seen last year in particular was brought on in part by the period of municipal flux created from the third court-ordered dissolution of the Town of James Island last May. The debate placed James Island residents at the crossroads, with decisions over the widening Harborview Road, extending the Interstate 526 Mark Clark Expressway across Johns and James Islands, and with a series of green-lighted residential development projects serving as major defeats for James Islanders fighting out of the anti-development corner.
With momentum for change across the island snowball and the I-526 decision momentarily holding strong, 2013 promises to be another busy year for developers, real estate professionals, and property brokers keen on snapping up the few remaining tracts of undeveloped James Island while the going’s good. The year’s first few weeks have already illustrated that trend, with a pair of projects set for City green-lighting in the coming months primed to pave the way for many more in the coming months. Controversy remains ever-present, however, as residents continue to rebuke municipal planners throughout the County for a perceived lack of transparency and communication.
On Tuesday (after press time), the Charleston City Council heard a second reading of an ordinance paving the way for one of the biggest and most controversial of the many projects slated for the coming year, that of the Cooper James Planned Unit Development multi-use project. The property is slated to be constructed on the now dilapidated, junkyard lot that sits along the east side of the intersection of Folly Road and Grimball Road Ext.
On Wednesday of last week the City Planning Department’s Technical Review Committee conditionally approved a pair of residential development projects slated for James Island neighborhoods. The body first heard a revised subdivision concept plan mega-builder D.R. Horton backs for the Harbor Woods neighborhood. The plan calls for building 38 single-family units, complete with public streets connecting them, on the 15 acre lot.
The Harbor Woods subdivision plan was brought to a halt over a year ago, after site neighborhood representatives reminded property owner Mike Washburn along with City officials that the lot in question was protected. The land, along with portions of Regatta, Grand Concourse Roads, and Harbortowne Roads, had been closed off to developers, introduced into the state highway system via a 1986 state act signed into law by then Governor Dick Riley preventing unbridled construction on the lot. Soon after Washburn’s initial, failed attempt at developing the Harbor Woods tract, however, the impediment to his developing the land, S.C. Act 624 of 1986, was in May of last year repealed. The entirety of the Charleston delegation signed off on the repeal, including James Island House District 115 Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston).
Neighborhood leaders, along with Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, who represents James Island, are clearly irked that the law was changed and the item placed back on the TRC agenda without much fanfare. In November of last year the project had acquired City Planning Commission approval and needed only the final nod of the TRC to complete the City review process. Wilson was on hand for the meeting of the TRC, and saw to it after the meeting that Washburn coordinated a meeting with neighbors to discuss the process going forward. At press time, it remains unclear if the two sides actually convened to discuss the plan.
A second residential development, the 88-unitStonebridge at Seaside Plantation development received preliminary approval of their subdivison plat concept. In the case of Stonebridge, developer Beazer Homes actually mitigated public outcry by negotiating with area residents in an effort to assuage their concerns.
What resulted was a compromise with area residents that led to the creation of an increased, 25-foot landscape buffer fronting the new development that was included at the behest of neighbors, with the developer acquiring the more flexible SR-6 zoning classification (from SR-2) in the trade-off. The change in zoning actually reduced the density of the overall project, as well as providing for a cleaner, more aesthetically satisfying plat layout. A key in the deal was the mandate that townhomes and apartments were forbidden, limiting the builder to single-family residential homes for the project.
In Wilson’s mind, the compromise was a success. “In the end, we’re as satisfied as we can be. It’s not a flat out win-win, it’s a compromise,” she says. of the negotiation.
© 2013 Wiser Time Publishing, Inc.