The City of Charleston Planning Commission deferred a decision Wednesday night on whether to approve a zoning plan that could shape the future of the Upper Peninsula by prohibiting heavy industrial development, encouraging mixed-use development, and offering incentives to developers who include public amenities in their projects.
The plan is to create a new Upper Peninsula Zoning District, which includes properties on the upper east side of the peninsula along Morrison Drive, Meeting Street Road, and King Street Extension from Huger Street on the southern end to Milford Street on the northern end. A letter sent out by the city to property owners in the affected area states that the intent of the proposed zoning district is “to protect the existing neighborhoods, encourage responsible development, and allow for mixed use and greater density as appropriate.”
The Planning Commission discussed the zoning proposal toward the end of its four-hour meeting Wednesday night and then voted to defer a decision on it until a special Planning Commission meeting to be scheduled for a date in August. The commission will present its recommendation to City Council on Sept. 22, and City Council will vote on whether to adopt the new zoning.
Under the current zoning in the affected area, properties are allowed to include Heavy Industrial (HI), Light Industrial (LI), and General Business (GB) land uses. If the Upper Peninsula Zoning District is created, there will be no new Heavy Industrial land use allowed in the district. Some Light Industrial uses will still be allowed, including printing presses, research and development laboratories, and industrial and commercial machinery.
A broad range of General Business (GB) uses, including single-family and multi-family dwellings, would be allowed under UP zoning. Tattoo shops, several of which currently exist in the Upper Peninsula, are not among the permitted uses for Upper Peninsula (UP) zoning. (Under city zoning law, properties with nonconforming uses are grandfathered in when the zoning changes, and businesses on those properties can continue to operate.)
The new zoning would come with some other major changes. All new buildings with frontage on a primary street would be required to have an active use — that is, non-residential and non-parking — on the ground floor. All new buildings with more than 50,000 square feet of space would be required to contain at least two different land use categories, with the larger use occupying no more than 80 percent of the space.
One of the most unusual components of the proposed UP Zoning District is how it would change height and residential density rules in the area. Under existing zoning, new construction on the affected properties is limited to about four stories in height, and residential construction is limited to 26.4 units per highland acre.
Under UP zoning, an incentive point system would allow developers to build taller and denser structures if they include certain features, listed as “Smart Growth Options,” in their projects. For example, under the point system, building “exceptional bicycle parking and facilities” is worth one point, building a 5,000-square-foot outdoor public space is worth two to three points, and getting LEED Gold sustainability certification on a building is worth six points. A developer with five points would be allowed to add a fifth story to a construction project. The point scale goes all the way up to 15 stories, with a requirement of 15 or more points. (See below for the complete chart of point values and how they can be earned.)
The UP Zoning District is a project of the city’s Upper Peninsula Initiative, which has been soliciting community input on the future of the area. If the zoning passes, it will be one of the city’s first major changes in development planning since chief planner Tim Keane left his post in June to take a similar job in Atlanta.
The proposed zoning ordinance includes a Findings section that explains some of its rationale:
“The character of the Upper Peninsula District is distinct and different from other areas of the peninsula in that there is not a predominance of historic buildings, thus presenting an opportunity for buildings to be sized and designed in a manner that incorporates architectural features characteristic to Charleston but which also take advantage of the geographic features of the area, as the potential for views of both the Ashley and Cooper Rivers exist. It is in the public interest that this area of the Peninsula be developed in a manner that reflects the built environment, makes advantageous use of technology to protect the natural environment and which provides opportunities for diverse housing and commercial activities.”