The battle over the redevelopment of Sergeant Jasper continued Wednesday night as the Charleston Planning Commission voted to recommend lowering the height limit on the property.

Currently, Sergeant Jasper is part of the 3X Old City Height District, which also includes eight other properties downtown, including the Francis Marion Hotel, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, and a new hotel currently under construction at the corner of Marion Square. Under the 3X height allowance, buildings can be no taller than three times their distance from the center of the street. Under the commission’s recommendation, these properties would be rezoned to the 55/30 Old City Height District, which limits building heights to 55 feet. The decision came after more than 90 minutes of public comments from residents and developers. The recommendation will now go to City Council, who are expected to discuss the proposed rezoning in late November.

Commissioner Barbara Ellison said that the current 3X zoning is outdated for this area of the city and a delicate balance must be maintained between the design and scale of new developments. Commissioner Angie Johnson, who voted against the amendment, said the commission needs to be reliable in its decision-making process and it would be unfair to property owners to lower height restrictions in this way.

Following the meeting, the Beach Company released a statement saying that the company believes the Sergeant Jasper site is being targeted with spot zoning and calling the self-initiated zoning change proposed by the commission “unprecedented.”

“The Planning Commission is well aware that the Beach Company has been working toward the redevelopment of the Sergeant Jasper site for years under its existing zoning, and a rezoning of this property midstream sends a loud message to developers and property owners that their property rights are not safe and the planning process is not to be trusted,” said the Beach Company. “The initial plan for the site received support from the city, and the Beach Company has made a significant investment towards the redevelopment of this property.”

The commission’s recommendation comes just days after the Beach Company proposed an alternate plan to renovate the interior of the existing Sergeant Jasper building and developing the surrounding 4.2-acre property to include a five-story parking garage and a six-story mixed-use building with office and retail space. Commissioner Charles Karesh voted against the height reduction, and he says that he has concerns about Planning Commission members proposing changes in zoning.

“This was Planning Commission members instigating rezoning. It’s never happened in that way,” says Karesh. “Usually rezonings comes from staff members or City Council, not Planning Commission members. We’re not elected officials picked to do that. We usually act on rezonings that are brought before us. We never usually instigate them.” 

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