I attended a Charleston City Board of Zoning Appeals meeting recently. It was held in the public meeting room at the Gaillard Center Municipal Building. There were four board members (Leonard Krawcheck, Michael Robinson, Margaret Smith, John Lester) and three staff members (Lee Batchelder, Pennye Ashby, and Vanessa Ellington) present. The audience consisted of roughly thirty people, a larger meeting than I anticipated it to be. . The agenda consisted on only one point of business concerning a property within the west side of Charleston on 721 King Street. Those applying for the appeal wanted to convert the ground floor of their office building into a restaurant with 1,750sf for inside patron use and 400sf of outside use, without providing required off-street parking spaces.
Discussion of this site took well over an hour. It began with an employee of the applicant business, Urbs LLC, giving a presentation of their plan for the restaurant addition underneath the existing office. In order to conduct this reconstruction, a special exception under Sec. 54-511 would have to be granted. Charleston is full of atypical structures that do not fit the normal standards, and this employee was trying to persuade the council that 721 King was just another case. He brought well thought out presentation boards and wore a nice suit, but his theoretical land use initiative was missing one factor- input from the locals.
This was a major contrast to what came next. After his presentation, community members were asked if they had any comments to add. At least seven people from the audience stood up and voiced their unsupportive opinion of the restaurant addition. The first man, a resident of 1 Race Street, complained that it would negatively impact his community because of the limited parking. A pregnant woman from 9A Race Street also said that this would put a strain on the area. She claimed that she already had to park blocks away from her house due to the congestion in automobile circulation. When carrying groceries and small children home after a long day of work, the last thing anyone wants to do is make a long trek home. The woman talked about her elderly neighbor who rarely leaves her house since she is afraid to have to park her car on a street that isn’t her own. She expressed love for her neighborhood, saying that her family is proud of the build up of businesses and restaurants she has seen over the past five years. There are just practical issues of residents that need to be factored into this now booming area.
The neighborhood association president spoke next, and passionately discussed his interest to preserve the block. He hoped that residents would not lose the sense of contentment and intimacy they feel towards their neighborhood because of Charleston’s obvious gentrification up King Street. It is detrimental to have residents and patrons of these businesses fighting over their claim of the space. Traffic not only blocks in residents, but also the bus stops nearby.
The zoning board members discussed the parking issue amongst themselves. One by one they agreed to disapprove the motion. What stood out to me the most about this meeting was community involvement that comes with projects like this. Businesses want to come in and strictly make money. I mean in our capitalist society, isn’t that all people live for? It is when individual’s lives are negatively altered and inconvenienced that issues arise. This area is not just a developmental gold mine for urban planners; it is where dads teach their kids to ride bikes and the aging live out their last peaceful years. Space has meaning attached to it, and urban planning should heavily involve the people it affects in order to maintain positive social sustainability.