Advocacy

Laurel Island PUD Update

preservation-admin , July 14, 2020

Originally scheduled to come before the Planning Commission in March, the Planned Unit Development (PUD) rezoning request for Laurel Island was postponed when public meetings were canceled in response to COVID-19. Now that public meetings are back underway virtually, this major request is up for “information only” review at this week’s July 15 Planning Commission meeting via Zoom. The proposal calls for a high-density, mixed-use development of the 196-acre island just north of downtown, which will undoubtedly be one of the largest and most impactful projects in Charleston’s history.

The PSC has been in conversation with the developer since January and was recently encouraged to learn the project team has been expanded to include diversified expertise, specifically in the fields of planning and design. Some aspects of the PUD have been revised to include greater detail on the vision for the development, including enhanced planning for proposed height districts, street grids, and open space. However, the PSC continues to advocate for greater specificity in the conceptual land use plan and a thorough study of the potential impacts on livability of nearby neighborhoods. Of primary concern is the lack of community engagement to date to help shape the PUD.

Proposed height districts map from the Laurel Island PUD document

While we appreciate the applicant’s pursuit of an “information only” review at this time, the virtual public meeting format does not allow for the level of input and discussion that workshops or neighborhood meetings provide. We feel strongly this development team should engage directly with the community, especially the directly affected neighborhoods on the Upper Peninsula. The Planning Commission’s opinion on the Laurel Island PUD will largely be formed at this initial meeting and it is imperative that Commission members hear from the community to ensure multiple perspectives are considered. Please see information below on how to engage and make your voice heard on this important proposal.  

The Planning Commission meeting will take place on July 15 at 5:00 PM. To review the agenda click here, and to review the application materials click here.

Public Comment Instructions
Please note all comments and requests to speak must be submitted by 12:00 PM on Wednesday, July 15.

  1. Sign-up to speak during the meeting or submit written comments by completing the form at http://innovate.charleston-sc.gov/comments/
  2. Request to speak or leave a comment via email to Boards@charleston-sc.gov or via voice mail at 843-724-3765. Be sure to provide your name, address, and telephone number.
  3. Mail comments to: Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, 2 George Street, 3rd floor, Charleston, SC 29401

Laurel Island – PSC Planning Commission Comments
07.15.20

The Preservation Society appreciates the applicant reaching out to us on this project and feels pursuing an initial “information only” review at this time is prudent given the significance and impact of this proposal. To this end, the Preservation Society is very concerned that, to date, there has been no outreach to the nearby, impacted neighborhoods such as East and North Central, the Eastside and Westside, Wagener Terrace, and Hampton Park. The mentioned public engagement for the previously proposed project for this site was many years ago – it was a different developer, a different plan, a different time. 

As one of the largest, most impactful developments in the peninsula’s history, community input could not be more important and the virtual public meeting format does not allow for the level of input and discussion that workshops or neighborhood meetings provide. We call on the project team to initiate conversation with neighborhood groups and encourage the Planning Commission to require this outreach prior to returning for formal review.

In addition to public engagement, our high-level concerns pertain to land use and open space, building height, architectural oversight, and traffic impacts. 

  • First, with regard to land use, there are discrepancies between the area breakdown on p. 10 that indicates only 5% of the total area will be usable open space, and the table on p. 15 that envisions 20-23% to be total usable open space. The higher percentage is much more appropriate for a development of this size, but this must be committed to in the PUD. Further, prior to formal review of the project, we urge the Commission to require a more detailed land use map showing the proposed location andacreage of each land use type, per Sec. 54-255 of the ordinance. 
  • Regarding height, we have concern with the appropriateness of 12 stories in this location and its potential to overwhelm Magnolia Cemetery, directly adjacent to the site. While nearby UP Zoning does allow up to 12 stories, height beyond 4 stories is incentive based. If this level of height is to be considered here, the PUD should take the same approach.
  • In this vein, given the visual impact of this development from many points on the peninsula, we are concerned by the notion that a 3-member, internal architectural review board (the LIBAR) would be responsible for all design purview of such large-scale development and ask for further consideration. Secondly, because the PUD proposes BAR review of the Laurel Island Design Principles at a later date, we would ask that parking standards be removed from the Design Principles. Parking is outside of the BAR’s scope and should be included for Planning Commission review.
  • Lastly, the proposed access points to Laurel Island via Brigade, Romney, and Cool Blow Streets will funnel a significant amount of traffic into our existing roadways and neighborhoods. The full traffic study should be discussed in-depth with neighborhood leaders to account for potential livability impacts, for instance, how pick-up and drop-off at Meeting Street Academy on Cool Blow will be affected by such a significant increase in traffic volume.

Because PUD zoning locks in the most fundamental aspects of development and design upon initial approval, it is imperative that these areas of concern be addressed before this project moves forward.