Charleston's Looming Death Cloud

John F. Abess

This view of the Ashley River from Barre Street will forever be lost if developers build on St. Mary's Field.


Charleston, at one point in time, was considered the greatest city in the world to visit. But now, Charleston has a cloud descending upon it. It is a toxic cloud. It is a cloud that chokes happiness, livability, and emotional wellness from the residents of peninsular Charleston. It is the cloud of overdevelopment.

UPDATE: The Beach Company has withdrawn it's PUD application for the Sergeant Jasper site, and the March 16 meeting at the Burke High School Auditorium is canceled.


One immediate specific overdevelopment cloud is a PUD (planned unit development) created by the Beach Company to replace the Sergeant Jasper. It is poised to destroy a beautiful view of the Ashley River, the City Marina, and the graceful curves of the James Island Connector. This cloud is ready to hide the gentle, welcoming impression people receive upon entering Charleston from Lockwood Boulevard. This cloud is about to irreparably destroy the quiet, slow, gentle residential character of Barre Street, a two-lane street zoned single residential between Beaufain and Canal Streets. This street is so narrow that no parking is permitted on either side of the road. In fact, there exist no sidewalks. Thus, residents and children walk and bike on the very road itself.    


On either side of this pedestrian-friendly street of beautiful views, the Beach Company’s toxic cloud will sprout 55- and 75-foot buildings. These buildings will block out the sky, the sun, and the existing tranquil Lowcountry views. People walking on Barre after the toxic cloud descends can imagine how it feels to be a rat in a maze—walking between tall buildings and having no view except for the sky immediately above. And, with 700+ cars and trucks moving into and out of the toxic death cloud, people walking and bicycling the narrow road will feel they have become vulnerable targets to vehicles. 


What is the importance of space and sunlight to our mental health and well-being? Studies show that sunlight has a direct influence upon our mood. People experience mood disorders with “seasonal features.” Less exposure to sunlight influences our mood toward depression. As developers are allowed zoning exceptions (especially to height and mass requirements), our view of the sky and access to sunlight is chipped away and destroyed. The toxic cloud of this particular development will block out sunlight and tranquil views. Additionally, it will add to traffic, frustration, and aggression.


Studies show that crowding increases competition, frustration, and rage. Don’t all of us encounter examples on a daily basis of impulsive erratic driving by frustrated impatient drivers? Road rage increases accidents and fatalities. Research has clearly identified the existence of social amplification of violence. It is now understood that environmental factors can prompt escalation of aggression. Wouldn’t we want our City of Charleston to take into account the mental well-being of its residents? Wouldn’t we want city officials to help diminish aggression by providing a placid, tranquil environment? It is not right (and it is very frustrating) for residents to wait 5 to 10 minutes to cross Broad Street. It is evident to people living in peninsular Charleston that traffic is currently already both too dense and too fast for residential life. It is simply not sensible to add 700+ additional vehicles that have to travel on Broad Street or Barre Street.


Development is fine. I am not against development. However, the process of development should be a slow accountable process incorporating the best ideas of the developer, the residents, and the growth plan of the community.  


Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) give the developer the license to sidestep city regulations. This seems wrong in almost every instance. The Beach Company does not deserve exemption from the normal zoning regulations and processes. Giving a PUD to the Beach Company is similar to letting the fox into the chicken coup. We residents of Charleston are the chickens and the victims.   


The City of Charleston has zoning regulations that will preserve the character of the neighborhood. For instance, no building higher than 35 feet is allowed on the city’s “Old City Height District” of St. Mary’s Field. However, by applying for and receiving approval for a PUD, the Beach Company is able to circumvent the existing zoning regulations, which were established to preserve the character and nature of the city.       


Charleston is facing a looming death cloud of overdevelopment. One specific cloud is a PUD created by the Beach Company for the Sergeant Jasper. It will erode the quality of life and the livability for which Charleston is famous. What are we going to do about it? Mr. Riley, please don’t let this PUD become part of your legacy. The fate of the PUD is to be decided March 16, 2015 at the Burke High School Auditorium.