Zoning Hearing Board Clears Way for Daniel Island Housing Project
The Humanities Foundation is back on track to build a $6.9 million, 72-unit apartment complex in the center of Daniel Island, thanks to a favorable decision from a city zoning board Tuesday.
The Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously denied an appeal from the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association after listening to arguments for nearly an hour. The residents’ group, represented by resident and attorney David Cobb, tried to convince the board that the plans for the housing project break the city zoning rules for the site. Charleston city attorney Adelaide Andrews persuaded the board that the city’s interpretation of those rules indeed does allow such a project.
It was a tough call for the board, several members said.
“I believe Mr. Cobb when he says he has 325 hours in this,” said Chairman Leonard Krawcheck, who hushed the crowd of more than a dozen residents when it repeatedly grumbled at Andrews’ arguments and once applauded Cobb’s.
The zoning ordinance is too complicated and needs revision, Krawcheck and other members agreed. No one disputed that.
Across town in another meeting room, Charleston City Council approved the first reading of a bill to amend the same zoning language in question to support the city staff’s interpretation. Council’s approval was by an 8-3 vote, with council members Henry Fishburne, Robert George and Larry Shirley voting against the bill.
In an interview the day after the meeting, Fishburne said that discussion of the bill turned nasty, with some council members raising accusations that opponents of the bill were motivated by racial and economic prejudice. Opponents of the project strongly deny this motivation, explaining that they favor affordable housing on Daniel Island but oppose the clustered nature of the Humanities Foundation project. Opponents also say they should have been included in the planning stages.
Fishburne said he was frustrated by the talk at the council meeting because it indicated that his generation still is unable to move beyond racial tension in matters like this. “I felt like just getting up and walking out,” he said.
Cobb argued before the zoning board that council would not consider that amendment unless the zoning rules were problematic. Still, the zoning board members said they believed that the intent of the zoning, confusing language aside, fits with the Humanities Foundation’s plans.
The amendment before council will have two more public hearings before it may be approved.
When the appeal came before the board at its previous meeting, the board was so overwhelmed with the blurry legalese, it asked the city and DINA to prepare written briefs on their arguments and come back for a rehearing.
Cobb presented board members with a seven-page document, and Andrews’ summation came in, not quite as brief, at 20 pages.
The confusion centered on whether residential construction on the planned site is governed by Town Center zoning rules or by Residential zoning rules. The opposing residents argued for the latter, saying the site has too much frontage for multi-family housing under Residential zoning. The city zoning and legal staff argued that since the lot is zoned Town Center, Residential zoning rules do not apply.
The zoning language easily could be interpreted either way, hence the strong case for an appeal. But the board ultimately took the word of the city’s zoning administrator, Lee Batchelder, who knows the city’s Daniel Island zoning regulations better than anyone. He helped write and rewrite them and said council’s intent was that all construction, including residential, follow Town Center rules when located in the Town Center zone.
After the hearing, the Humanities Foundation representatives said work on the project will begin soon and wrap up about a year from now. Site preparation already has begun.
The apartments are to be rented to people earning no more than 50 percent of the area’s median income, about $19,500 for a single person.