Town Approves 5-Points Re-Zoning
After Two-year Charrette Period, Tight, 3-2 Vote Paves Way for Development of ‘Old Terrace Project’
By Charlie Morrison
James Island Town Council voted in favor of re-zoning the 5-lot property at the intersection of Woodland Shores Rd. and Maybank Hwy. from the single-family residential zoning to planned-use-development (PUD) zoning. The key aspect of the PUD zoning is that it gives Town Council a say in the overall presentation of the building, as well as in the tenant selection process. A building zoned PUD allows a variety of uses as determined by Town Council as long as it “doesn’t cause hardships to the surrounding residents.”
The issue of re-zoning the 1.4 acre tract first came before Town Council in November, 2007, when the development group, J.L. Woode, Ltd., presented a revised packet detailing their plans for the property. They hoped that their plan would sway the Town to re-zone the property PUD at that time. Council rejected that plan on the basis of their disapproval of the planned usage of the commercial property.
The J.L. Woode, Ltd. team then began the two-year process of seeking compromise with opponents of their proposal, namely residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. The team underwent a ‘charrette’ process in cooperation with the town; the process involved presenting 9 different schematic plans that provided a variety of schematic options in the effort to compromise with critics of the development. The charrette process involved the design team starting with nine potential building designs, whittling those nine down to three, then one, the very design that was up for approval at the Oct. 20 meeting of Town Council. The long wait for a final reading on the compromised proposal finally arrived at the meeting: the council voted 3-2 in favor or the re-zoning the property to PUD.
James Island Planning Director Roy DeHaven introduced the final reading of the ‘Old Terrace Project’ as the first issue in his Planning Development report. The name ‘Old Terrace Project’ emerged as the charrette process progressed; the development team altered its vision to one that involved the building smoothly integrating into the neighborhood, and the felt the naming of the project has a symbolic benefit. In the words of the team’s attorney, Jonathan L. Yates, of Nexsen Pruet, “the name ‘Old Terrace Project‘ felt right to us because it fitted into the context of the community.”
Discussion on the final reading of the re-zoning ordinance was initially dominated by the consideration of whether or not the issue had been properly vetted to the public. Councilmen Leonard Blank and Councilman Parris Williams reminded council of the many voices of opposition that had emerged at previous meetings. Blank even went so far as to suggest that the timing of the final reading was strategic. “We let enough time go by that maybe it’s a little forgotten, so we can slip it through…I think it’s the wrong way to handle it,” stated Blank.
Councilman Williams echoed Blank’s comments, “We should have a public hearing or something to hear from the community on this because I can’t vote on something like this without hearing from the community.” Planning Commissioner DeHaven reminded Council that another Public Hearing on the issue would have to be delayed a mandatory 15 days, potentially pushing it back to the Town Council Meeting of Nov. 17.
James Island Town Mayor Mary Clark waited to hear from the other councilmembers before decisively expressing her opinion on the matter.
“We have been over this for quite some while, two years…and the objection was from the neighborhood, because the people didn’t like the fact that this was residential, and then the went with the PUD, they went to the planning commission, and all the while we’re sitting with property with nothing on it., nothing for the town,” stated Clark. The mayor later opened the door for more discussion. “I just think at some point we have to show leadership and do something. If the consensus of the group is that we should postpone it to the next meeting and have the public there and then vote, that’s fine with me,” said Clark.
Council members Qualey and Wilder, however, felt that the Council had worked the process enough, and that it was time to take action. “We’re faced with the prospect of trying to come up with a compromised plan, and I’m sure the developers would have preferred the first one that came up, and now they’re faced with this one; either that or its sitting vacant with five single family lots on it,” Qualey said. He continued “I think this looks like a good plan.” Added Councilman Wilder, “I don‘t like to see empty lots. Just sitting there. It (the plan) meets my criteria.”
Now that the path to the development of “The Old Terrace Project” has been paved, the J.L. Woode, Ltd. team will go to work on contracting out the work and planning a day to break ground. James Island residents can feel some comfort in that the designers have released a schematic of the proposed building. The group made a concerted effort to plan a structure that fits into the character of the 5-points intersection and enhances
its growth potential as a community center.
The schematics of the 2007 planned development guidelines, which incidentally have remained the guidelines of record, show a low-rise commercial building with spaces for five tenants. The tenants are fronted by shrubs and trees and parking will be ample for the complex. There would be two entrances/exits to the building, one on to Woodland Shores Rd. and one on to S. Gervet Dr. The criteria for a potential business going into the new development is strict, but represent’s a consensus on potential tenants. As council zoning rules state, a professional office, medical office, hair styling business, a coffee shop, a family shop, a drug store, a fitness center and a bookstore could be admitted into the new commercial center.
The close vote of 3-2 on the re-zoning of the property illustrated a particular area of compromise that hasn’t been seen of late at Town Council meetings. Two of the three “Yes” votes united traditional combatants Mayor Clark and Councilman Joe Qualey, and the result was that Council took decisive action. The compromise and cooperation that the vote expressed certainly pleased the team representing J.L. Woode, Ltd., that’s for certain.
Councilman Qualey voiced his satisfaction in the Mayor’s due diligence while working behind the scenes with development opponents. “I have been a proponent of making something happen on this parcel from the beginning…apparently, after staff and Mayor Clark met with some of the opponents, apparently y’all feel comfortable that some of those concerns have been addressed,” began Qualey. “Not to speak for the Mayor but it appears that she (Clark) now has satisfied herself that this is an appropriate use, and that is coming a long way from where we started.”
Qualey went on to illustrate his opinion on the tangible benefits of developing the property for the town. “Its been going on too long. It looks like a good plan to me. Its time to have some commercialization, although down-scale commercialization there, its time to have some tax benefits for the town, and its time to show people that we’re able to work with both sides of the fence on these development issues,” stated Qualey.
The motion to approve for the re-zoning was finally called. Blank and Williams’ voices of opposition were ultimately overcome by the “Yes” votes of Councilman Joe Qualey, Councilman William “Cubby” Wilder, and finally Mayor Clark.
Clark, a typical opponent of development of all forms, explained her position after the vote was registered. “My feeling with this is that I think we need to have something there that will bring something into the town. It is sitting there vacant. You cannot put the houses back on it and nobody wants to build residences there again, so this is why I voted as I did. I’ve always with the people but this is one time that I need to live up to what I am called,” stated the Mayor.
© 2009 Wiser Time Publishing, Inc. and The James Island Messenger