John Darby, chief executive officer of The Beach Company, recently penned a letter to Charleston, South Carolina Mayor John Tecklenberg, as well as the members of the Charleston City Council, asking them to allow the proposed redevelopment of the city's Sgt. Jasper site, an empty downtown high-rise, to proceed.
The Beach Company, which owns the site, has attempted to get approval for many redesigns and changes to the site, but has not been able to get any plans green-lighted, largely due to complaints from neighborhood residents and historic preservation organizations.
Darby called the delays to the case "a blatant disregard of the approval process and property rights."
The site has been the subject of nearly a year of mediation and discussion between officials from The Beach Company, Charleston government leaders, and neighborhood and historic preservation organizations. On June 3, 2015, the Charleston Board of Architectural Review (BAR) denied The Beach Company's plans for the site, but failed to provide any clear direction about what revisions would be necessary.
On March 22, the Charleston City Council took a first look at an ordinance that proposed adding a zoning overlay district at the city's Sgt. Jasper site, but representatives of The Beach Company said the proposal was lacking.
Prior to the March 22 council meeting, Beach Company representatives spoke to a staff member of the City Planner's Office in an effort to develop a "Plan B" to the proposed zoning overlay district. When the ordinance came before the council on March 22, Darby said, nothing that had been discussed by company officials and the planner's office staffer was in that ordinance.
A mediation took place April 6, ordered by Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson Jr. All proposed plans were reviewed, but no agreements were reached.
In his most recent letter, Darby expressed frustration at not being able to move forward with plans for the Sgt. Jasper site.
"Last Friday, May 20, Judge Nicholson heard arguments from the City of Charleston and the neighborhood and preservation groups requesting that certain provisions of his original order pertaining to the BAR’s denial of the Sgt. Jasper redevelopment plan be changed," Darby wrote. "Judge Nicholson appeared amenable to some of the requested changes, but held firm that the BAR should not have the power to determine zoning issues such as height and use. He was very clear that The Beach Company should be allowed to proceed without additional issues regarding the project’s building envelope."
Darby said he "reached out to Mayor Tecklenburg on the afternoon of Friday, May 20, and talked to him the following day."
"I told him that time was of the essence and that if the city truly wants to settle this matter, discussions should begin immediately this week," Darby wrote.
Darby said The Beach Company has been making plans to redevelop the site for 15 years.
"(Then-) Mayor Riley and planning staff were aware of this decision and our property rights were confirmed in writing before any of the tenants were notified of our decision to vacate and replace the structure," Darby wrote. "The Sgt. Jasper is a valuable asset and has served Charleston well for many decades. However, we strongly believe this location deserves better and remain committed to building a quality structure with appropriate architecture, provided a resolution is reached very soon."
Darby said many plans for the building have been mulled over, including a new residential building and a neighborhood grocery store; a mixed-use 18-story building with office and residential units; a mixed-use 13-story building with office and residential units; renovation of the building's 232 units and addition of a new structure to be used primarily for office spaces; and a mixed-use nine-story building that would consist of 350 residential units as well as office and retail space.
All these proposals would either not be able to be completed without zoning changes or were denied by the BAR.
"We have the right to develop this property," Darby said. "The only question is whether the community will receive a new well-designed building or if the city will continue to delay the matter in court - leaving the 1950s Sergeant Jasper Building to remain in the Charleston skyline for the rest of our lifetimes. If The Beach Company is further delayed, we will expect to be reimbursed for the unnecessary costs and loss of revenue associated with the BAR’s error in judgment."
In court on May 20, Nicholson instructed city officials to settle the case.
"(Nicholson) said that the city needs to rewrite its ordinances and give the BAR the guidelines and standards to operate appropriately," Darby said. "The Beach Company encourages this to happen so that in the future, property owners will know what is expected before investing in the City of Charleston."
Nicholson went on to say the preservation and neighborhood organizations that have been so vocal about the issue do not have any real standing in the case - and as such should not have been able to delay action and block settlements as they have.
"I admire their passion and contribution to the city, but this matter should now be resolved with the city’s elected leaders," Darby said. "I am requesting that the city take immediate action today to work with The Beach Company to move this project along to remove the existing Sgt. Jasper building from the Charleston skyline. There is simply no good reason for further delays."
Tecklenberg's office did not respond to a request for comment.