The controversy surrounding the Beach Company's proposal to redevelop the Sergeant Jasper property entered a new phase this summer after the BAR denied their latest proposal at a special meeting held June 3, 2015.
In response to the BAR's decision, the Beach Company filed an appeal in circuit court, requesting pre-litigation mediation with the BAR and the City of Charleston. This little-known and seldom-used path of mediation would allow the Beach Company to negotiate directly with the City in a protected and confidential setting without public oversight and input.
The Preservation Society of Charleston (PSC) and Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) filed a joint Motion to Intervene in the mediation in an attempt to ensure that the public's voice would not be excluded from the discussion. In August, the judge granted the two organizations, as well as the neighborhood associations of Charlestowne and Harleston Village, the right to participate in the mediation.
On September 1, Tom Traxler, the mediator for the Sergeant Jasper BAR appeal, declared that the mediation was at an impasse because the parties were not able to reach a resolution. Following this, the Beach Company announced that it would continue to pursue its case in court, stating that the BAR exceeded its authority and violated its rights as an owner by denying the project. The City has publicized its intent to "defend vigorously" the decision and integrity of the BAR.
No project is guaranteed approval in advance of the public hearing, and we believe the BAR acted well within its legal authority in denying the proposed application. Because of the BAR and its review of alterations and new construction, Charleston has been able to protect and retain its character and integrity despite enormous development pressure over the years.
As we await the next chapter, the take-away from all of this is both encouraging and cause for concern. The City's ardent support for the BAR is heartening, as the BAR has safeguarded Charleston's irreplaceable character for nearly 85 years and must continue to do so if the city hopes to retain its unique quality and sense of place. Conversely, if the Beach Company's path of mediation is emulated by developers anytime they are displeased by a decision of a public board, the public processes that have helped keep Charleston unique will be at risk of continual circumvention.
Here is a recap of the events leading to the present state:
September 2014: The BAR gave the Beach Company approval to demolish the existing Sergeant Jasper building. Interior demolition began the following month, but further progress has since halted and the building still stands.
February 2015: At the February 18 meeting of the Planning Commission, the Beach Company sought approval to rezone the Sergeant Jasper property (310 and 322 Broad Street) into a Planned Unit Development (PUD). PSC opposed the PUD because of the many negative impacts it would have had on traffic, congestion, and parking in an area. The massive scale of what was proposed - 454 units, 700 parking spaces, and a 35,000 square foot grocery store - was incompatible with the surrounding historic residential neighborhoods.
An overwhelming turnout of concerned citizens prompted the hearing to be deferred to a special meeting on a later date. Before that hearing occurred, however, the Beach Company withdrew their plans for the PUD amidst widespread opposition and went back to the drawing board.
May 2015: At a special meeting of the BAR at Burke High School Auditorium, the Beach Company presented their new vision for the Sergeant Jasper redevelopment. This time, rather than seeking to rezone the property into a PUD, it based its design on the property's existing 3X height district, an outmoded zoning designation allowing heights and setbacks incongruous with the adjacent historic neighborhoods. The result was an 18-story residential tower, retail shops wrapping a parking garage, and a large office building. PSC opposed this design because it was discordant with its surroundings by every objective measure. The BAR deferred the project on its height, scale, and mass, specifically as it referred to the tower.
June 2015: The June 3 meeting of the BAR took place at the Charleston Museum, where the Beach Company returned to unveil a slightly modified proposal. The tower was truncated to 13 stories, but the volume lost in height was added in mass to parts of the other buildings. After hearing lengthy testimony from scores of opposed citizens in front of a packed auditorium, The BAR, in a 3-to-2 decision, voted to deny the plan, citing its being out of keeping with the height, scale, and mass of the surrounding historic district.
July 2015: The Beach Company filed an appeal of the decision in circuit court, requesting pre-litigation mediation with the BAR and the City of Charleston. PSC and HCF filed a joint Motion to Intervene in the pending case, and the neighborhood associations of Charlestowne (CNA) and Harleston Village (HVNA) did the same.
August 2015: PSC, HCF, CNA, and HVNA were granted the right to send representatives to the mediation. Mediation occurred over two weeks, with all parties sworn to confidentiality.
September 2015: An impasse was declared in the mediation, with the Beach Company and the City unable to come to an agreement. The former announced its intent to pursue its case in court.