James Island Vision
When we think of James Island, most people think of tree-lined corridors, historic sites like McLeod Plantation, and a spirit of independence. Some portions of James Island, such as Folly Road, were not necessarily planned with a sense of community or place. Each part of the Charleston area is unique, with characteristics and designs identifiable with that particular community. The comprehensive plans of various jurisdictions should be context-sensitive and portray the sense of place reflecting the history of the community, with a nod to appropriate development, and most importantly, in a direction that they understand and support.
A myriad of issues have begun to frustrate James Islanders, but one development proposal in particular—the Maybank Gathering Place—spurred the realization that James Island truly needs a collaborative vision for its development future. That vision is one that all stakeholders must reach together based on common ground.
The Maybank proposal is located in a district zoned Gathering Place by the City of Charleston. A Gathering Place is a mixed-use town, village, or neighborhood center located at major intersections or along traditional commercial streets in suburban locations around the city. It incorporates diverse housing, mixed-use, and pedestrian-oriented development that is also supposed to be accessible by public transportation. Streets are to be connected both within the district and to surrounding neighborhoods and developments.
With the application for grand tree removal at a development site of 22 acres on Maybank Highway zoned Gathering Place in 2011, and the last public visioning meeting for this area held by the city 9 years prior, James Islanders are concerned and unsure about whether the Gathering Place zoning as written is appropriate for James Island’s character. After several meetings with concerned citizens and city planners, League staff realized the two sides need to discuss design options for the Maybank property, as well as several other pending developments, and also discuss how to tailor the Gathering Place zoning to become context-appropriate and promote connectivity on James Island, as well as other parts of Charleston. League staff met with active residents to get an idea of their vision for the community, and then met separately with city staff to get their ideas.
The League participated on a committee of relevant stakeholders, led by the City of Charleston’s planning staff, to revise the Gathering Place ordinance. The benefit of the revisions was the adaption of incentive-based density–in order for developers to increase unit numbers on Gathering Place sites, they would need to provide various community benefits such as bicycle and pedestrian connections offsite, affordable housing, advanced storm water controls, and other improvements. Unfortunately, City Council and the general public opposed not only the Gathering Place zoning, but the committee’s suggested revisions. However, the developer of the latest phase of the Maybank Gathering Place voluntarily rezoned the property to a PUD, significantly downzoning the parcel.
The Rethink Folly Road planning effort has resulted in a draft report and a signed Memorandum of Understanding from all municipalities involved, ensuring the plan comes to fruition with the cooperation of Charleston County, the City of Folly Beach, the City of Charleston, and the Town of James Island.