HCF’s Position on the Proposed Laurel Island PUD
Posted: August 19, 2020
Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) began discussions of the current PUD proposal for Laurel Island in February, when the Laurel Island team made a presentation to the HCF Advocacy Committee. HCF is supportive of development of Laurel Island, and our goal in approaching this PUD proposal has been to ensure that it becomes a model for infill development on the peninsula, enhances the surrounding neighborhoods, and contributes to Charleston’s overall sense of place.
Since that initial February presentation, HCF and its Advocacy Committee have been in ongoing communications with the Laurel Island team. HCF has made a number of suggestions for improvement, exchanged several memoranda with the team, posed a myriad of questions, and advocated for substantial changes within numerous facets of the proposal. As such, The Foundation has made a meaningful impact in improving the PUD proposal from when it was first presented in February to the version under consideration. HCF is appreciative of the attention the Laurel Island team has paid to HCF’s comments and suggestions and are appreciative that many of them have been incorporated.
Key improvements to the initial proposal suggested by HCF that are worthy of highlighting:
- Slowing the process to allow more time for all to review and insisting upon the initial information-only presentation at the July meeting;
- A clearly articulated vision for the entire development as evidenced in the “5 Guiding Principles” included in section 2.3;
- Establishment of fixed “bones” of the development, including principal corridors along Romney, Cool Blow and Brigade Streets that terminate at the water adhering to Charleston’s historic street pattern;
- Clear locations for public access to the waterfront via a dock with ferry access and crabbing docks, as well as full perimeter views of and access to the water with no private parcels obscuring that;
- Enhancements to the public realm and establishment of clear locations for park and recreational space;
- Commitment to building height locations on the island to provide an interesting and varied skyline, while being sensitive to surrounding neighborhoods and cultural resources on and adjacent to the island; and
- Laudable plans to prioritize workforce housing and making it integral to the development vision.
This latest proposal for Laurel Island is a marked improvement from where the conversation began. However, there are still areas where HCF has concern and where additional improvements should be made.
With regard to the public realm:
- HCF is impressed with the amount of usable park space and the desire to provide more open space than the 20% required by city ordinance.
- The perimeter park along the entire edge of the island will be a huge recreational asset for the peninsula.
- Though the Laurel Island team has committed to pocket parks internal to the island in the PUD document, we believe that the development would benefit from a central square or urban plaza (like Marion Square) in the densest, most urbanized part of the island to provide some relief and open space.
Workforce and affordable housing are one of Charleston’s greatest challenges and one of the biggest impediments to quality of life in this city:
- Through the development of Laurel Island, Charleston is presented with a tremendous opportunity to tackle this issue and provide an impactful amount of affordable housing on the peninsula at a scale unachievable elsewhere.
- The Foundation applauds the Laurel Island team’s commitment to setting aside 10% of the proposed housing units as affordable in perpetuity. To HCF’s knowledge, no other development team working in the city of Charleston has endeavored to add to Charleston’s workforce housing stock in this significant way.
- During the informational Planning Commission meeting last month, Commissioners indicated that they would like to see more workforce housing provided. This updated PUD proposal designates an additional 10% of workforce housing to remain as such for a 10-year period. We believe the 10-year period should be extended to 25 years to mirror what the city would require if MU-WH zoning had been pursued.
HCF is mission-driven to protect and preserve cultural and historic resources in the Lowcountry.
- HCF is encouraged to see the cultural resources study included in the PUD proposal and the trail space that will provide access to the Robert Mills and Standard Oil ruins.
- However, there should be more detail on the management plan for these resources that would include documentation, interpretation and stabilization plans for these significant resources.
- The Robert Mills ruins are abutted to the east by the 12 story height district and to the south by Romney Street and the 8 story height district.
- In reviewing the sight lines for the island’s allowable height districts, we would like to see some sort of a height buffer or step down so that the skyline doesn’t drop so dramatically at that western portion of the island facing the Robert Mills ruins.
Lastly, HCF has had a lot of internal conversations about the design review process for Laurel Island and how the LIBAR (Laurel Island Board of Architectural Review) will take shape and function.
- While HCF recognizes the need for the city of Charleston BAR to play a role in establishing the design principles and LIBAR appeal process, the Foundation is cautious of attributing additional workload to the BAR, as they can be already taxed by their current scope of work.
- The Laurel Island Board of Architectural Review (LIBAR) should adhere to the overarching Guiding Principles of the entire development in establishing the design principles for the development.
- Similarly, HCF would like to see a strong commitment to sustainable and resilient design and building practices emphasized in this section as part of the future design principles.