City of Charleston Introduces New Zoning to Add ‘Overlay District' on Sergeant Jasper Property Site

The Charleston City Council will consider an ordinance to add a zoning “overlay district” on the Sergeant Jasper property site at next Tuesday’s council meeting.

Sgt. Jasper "Plan B" Concept   The Beach Company

Next Tuesday's Charleston City Council meeting includes consideration of a proposed ordinance to add a zoning “overlay district” on the Sergeant Jasper property site.

The Beach Company, which has proposed numerous concepts for redevelopment of the Sergeant Jasper property, criticized the new measure. The company says it spoke with city planning staff earlier this week regarding its second (“Plan B”) concept for the site. That concept emerged after then-Mayor Joe Riley suggested all parties involved move toward a compromise for the property.

“If the goal is to accomplish Plan B, this ordinance falls significantly short,” said John Darby, CEO of The Beach Company. “The ordinance that appeared late today for Tuesday’s City Council agenda was without prior review or collaboration with the property owner.”

Darby said the proposed ordinance conflicts with good-faith conversations that have taken place between his company and the city.

“The Beach Company also has had several meetings with Mayor Tecklenburg, and this ordinance bears little relation to the discussions that took place,” said Darby. “It offers no opportunity to successfully improve the site other than proceeding with the plan under appeal, or renovating the existing building. This ordinance indicates the city is not serious about any intentions to work toward a reasonable agreement on Plan B.”

This ordinance proposal comes a few days after the City Planning Commission deferred discussion of a proposed city council ordinance that would rein in the power of the planning commission. Currently, the city council requires a three-fourths majority vote to overrule decisions of the planning commission. The proposed measure would lower that threshold to a 60 percent requirement.

“At 75 percent, the city council, which is elected by the people, have a harder time overturning a planning commission decision,” City Council Member William Moody, sponsored of the resolution, told Palmetto Business Daily earlier this week.

The unelected city planning commission and Board of Architectural Review (BAR) have come under fire for proposing arbitrary regulations that some say infringe on private property rights and conflict with existing zoning laws.

The BAR has rejected several Sergeant Jasper concepts proposed by The Beach Company, and a lawsuit by the company challenging the power of the BAR is currently pending in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas.

“The Board of Architectural Review is tasked to objectively evaluate applications and provide feedback to applicants, including the specific changes that should be made to obtain approval,” said Darby in a statement released last July. “In denying The Jasper application, the majority of the Board did neither. The appeal asserts the denial was legally improper.”

Darby also criticized efforts to infringe upon his company’s property rights and “downzone” the property last November.

“During his campaign, Mayor Tecklenburg was a proponent of stripping the property rights allowed by zoning for the Sergeant Jasper property,” said Darby. “The Planning Commission attempted to downzone the property in 2015, and City Council rejected its recommendation with an 11-1 vote on November 24.”

“If the city is sincere about improving the Sergeant Jasper site, we urge them to withdraw this ordinance and collaborate with the property owner,” added Darby.

According to court filings, The Beach Company had spent $2.3 million on consulting and demolition preparation for the Sergeant Jasper site, as well as incurring almost $2 million per year in revenue for the empty building, as of October 2015.

Those costs have no doubt risen in the five months since those filings were made.

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