The Boulevard is no stranger to controversy. The mixed-use residential and retail complex has been the center of contentious debate regarding what some say is the over-development of the Coleman Boulevard corridor. It could be its visibility. At 60 feet tall, it towers over all neighboring buildings. Some say the design is flawed since it's notably different from the clapboard, coastal charm of Shem Creek.
For Heitman, a real estate investment firm based in Chicago and The Boulevard's owners since January 2014, those concerns haven't affected sales. Nearly all of the 325 living units have sold out.
Jennifer Murphy, community manager for The Boulevard, says, "This building is very different for Mt. Pleasant but is obviously needed for housing. The leasing numbers have been incredible. When we came in January, we were 60 percent occupied. We're at 95 percent occupied today."
Regional Manager Christy Wright weighs in, "It's important to discuss the success of this community. The housing is needed. The demand is here. We've signed 10-15 leases a week since the new transition in January 2014."
However, the strong sales come with a caveat. For the 325 units, there are only 415 parking spots, which work out to a little over 1.25 parking spots per unit. Not only are there two- to three-bedroom units in the building, but there is an entire retail section of the building requiring its own parking.
While this might not sound altogether terrible, it comes on the heels of an already tangible parking issue in the area. The added stress on area traffic has caused a flurry of complaints from nearby residents, as well as embarrassment for the local politicians who knowingly approved the building with its limited parking.
Drive through the small neighborhood roads in the vicinity of The Boulevard after normal work hours and you'll witness a slow jam of cars trying to finagle parking spots, often on people's front lawns. Murphy explains what some homeowners are too frustrated to admit: "It's the easement. People can park in front of people's houses if there is no sidewalk. It's not illegal for people to park there, but as a homeowner you obviously don't want that. We hear complaints, but it's a state-owned road."
Enter Phase II. New construction at The Boulevard is planned for April 2015 to build about 100 new living units and over 300 parking spots. Wright suggested as many as 375 spots, but this will depend on the amount of parallel parking that can be incorporated into the plans. This brings the total of living units to about 430 and parking spots to over 700, upping the parking per unit ratio considerably. However, this two- to three-year construction plan does nothing about the current gap in parking.
And the parking fiasco isn't limited to residents. The Boulevard's plan for a retail community seems to be floundering without enough area parking for potential shoppers. With the exception of one beauty salon and spa, the remaining spots are empty and are likely to remain so until the parking situation is resolved.
This could be one of the reasons The Boulevard is keen on offering what some might call a white flag to the neighbors: a temporary parking lot. Behind the GDC Home store is an empty spot of land that The Boulevard hopes to turn into a 150-spot parking area for Boulevard residents. Murphy explains, "150 spaces, depending on approval, would give us more than two spaces per unit, plus spots for retail. But it's not set ... We're working with the town on this."
Which is probably just a nice way of saying that the town wants a short-term parking solution before giving final approval to the Phase II section of the building. In addition, Mt. Pleasant Town Council has authorized the construction of new sidewalks in the area before Phase II begins; normally sidewalks are the last things to be built. Town Council also has required all fees for Boulevard residents to be negated, arguing that the prohibitive cost of parking is one of the reasons people have been parking in the free spots on the streets.
Murphy defends the practice of requiring residents to pay for parking. "When this was brought up in January, the previous company was already charging for the garage. The leases were in place and it's something we continued," she says. Wright chimes in, "Parking is now included in rent, and so this means that the parking issue is resolved for The Boulevard."
However, you have to wonder if steps like these will be enough to satisfy The Boulevard's critics, some of whom will never be able to get over the fact that the Mt. Pleasant they grew up in — or moved to years ago — is changing. And it's changing fast.
Having graduated College of Charleston in 2001, Courtney Davis O'Leary was thrilled to return, this time with a husband, toddler, and dog in tow. In addition to being a regular contributor to the English language newspaper Flanders Today and a weekly columnist for the Belgium daily De Morgen, she has also been published in The Dallas Morning News, Bust Magazine, The Bulletin, and Mt. Pleasant Magazine. A resident of Old Mt. P, she makes the arduous trek to the "other side" (a.k.a. James Island) to battle it out on skates as a Lowcountry High Roller All-Star.