Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Beach Co. announces judge’s decision on Sgt. Jasper appeal

BAR none

Posted by Dustin Waters on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 10:03 AM

JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
No one has lived in the Sgt. Jasper since 2014, but it hasn’t remained empty. Instead the 14-story tower has become home to everything we hate about urban development in Charleston.

The latest news surrounding the ill-fated property comes in the form of an announcement from the Beach Company. According to the developers, a circuit court judge has ordered the Beach Company, the City of Charleston, and neighborhood and preservation groups to enter mediation regarding a proposed plan to redevelop Sgt. Jasper. The judge's order comes as a result of an appeal filed by developers after the city’s Board of Architectural Review denied a redevelopment plan for the site last June.

The statement from the Beach Company says that a mediation date is scheduled for April 6, during which time all parties involved will once again plead their cases in what has become the Groundhog’s Day issue of our time. We continue through the same chain of events with only slight variation to remind us that time is actually moving forward.

Last summer, after the BAR denied the Beach Company’s modified plan that included a 13-story tower and hidden parking garage, the developer filed an appeal arguing that the plan met the city’s zoning restrictions. Mediation sessions began in August between representatives from the Beach Company, former Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., BAR members, city staff, and — following a special court ruling — representatives from Charlestowne and Harleston Village neighborhoods and preservation organizations. By September, the Beach Company announced that mediation talks had fallen through and Sgt. Jasper would be reopened to tenants in a move that has been repeated since.

At that time, Frank Rupp, president of the Harleston Village Association, spoke with the Post & Courier regarding the mediation efforts, saying, “Our neighborhood associations have always thought that mediation was not the proper venue to negotiate some new building plan that would be different from the one presented and denied by the BAR.”

Following that series of failed peace talks, city officials and staff introduced and rejected a number of zoning and height restrictions for the Sgt. Jasper site leading up to more meetings at the beginning of the new year to discuss a compromise. As was the case before, no consensus was met, and the Beach Company again announced that they would renovate and reopen Sgt. Jasper to tenants as they awaited a decision regarding their appeal of the BAR’s denial. Since that time, the BAR has managed to defer another redevelopment plan from the Beach Company, which brings us to the present.

According to a statement from the Beach Company, all plans are back on the table, and CEO John Darby says that the company is “cautiously optimistic that we will be able to reach a positive solution for the Sgt. Jasper site through mediation.”

So as this custody battle over what many have called a gateway to Charleston continues, the Sgt. Jasper remains a blank canvas on which we can project our own misgivings as they concern the future of the city. The Beach Company wants it torn down. Those living near Sgt. Jasper want it torn down. The two groups just can’t decide what should go in its place. We all hate the Sgt. Jasper. The only difference among the various players in this never-ending dispute is why they hate it — other than it just being ugly.

Receiving no return on their investment in Sgt. Jasper for almost two years, the property has become a drain on the coffers of the Beach Company and a reminder of the numerous redevelopment projects that they’ve been unable to get approved by the city. For those who see the Sgt. Jasper stretch over their neighborhood everyday, the tower is an eyesore that never should have been built. And they don’t want it replaced with another development the community will regret 50 years from now.

At this point, it seems that we all know where everyone stands. The only question that remains is if a third time is the charm for talks of a compromise.

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