Saturday, May 21, 2016 Blog

The Laurel Island Project

by Andy Hollis

Today in The Post and Courier, Warren Wise wrote about proposed development on Laurel Island, between Morrison Drive and the Cooper River, north of the Ravenel Bridge. Jeff Speck, a city planner, author and consultant helping the developer assemble a team of planners, called Laurel Island the “best developable site on the East Coast.”

“It’s 160 acres of unbounded opportunity,” said Speck, who in 2012 wrote “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”“It’s in Charleston and not far from the heart of Charleston. It’s waterfront. It’s big and empty, and the city really gets urban design,” Speck said. “Charleston understands, appreciates, encourages and enables great urban design.”

We too are optimistic, and I’d like to share some of our initial thoughts.

First, it’s an improvement. This is a former landfill currently zoned heavy industrial. Left alone, it is a contaminated site full of garbage and invasive species. Without support for rezoning, it would become more of the same industrial port uses we see all along the peninsular waterfront.

Second, this has the potential to be great for Charleston. Residential, including apartments and town homes which are affordable and in high demand, commercial, and office space would be a fantastic use for a site like this, especially in this location – within walking or biking distance of employers, restaurants, and other commerical establishments. This is the exact type of brownfield development that we should be encouraging, because it relieves the pressure for greenfield development on Johns Island, Awendaw, Cainhoy, and outer West Ashley.

Third, the opportunities for a livable, thriving environment on this property are innumerable. People could live, work, and play without needing a car. A water taxi service could be implemented and waterfront parks and living shorelines could provide residents and visitors with more chances to experience and enjoy the beautiful marsh surrounding Charleston. And, we could create an entire development that incorporates safe bicycle and pedestrian access, a beautiful public realm, and easy access for buses – used not only by those living on Laurel Island, but for those shopping or working there as well, including those traveling on our soon-to-be bus rapid transit system from Summerville to downtown.

The size and location of this property allows us the ability to think big picture and transform Charleston’s urban core, and these are the opportunities we should realize and seize while we have the chance. The owners and developers are approaching it at a comprehensive level with an open mind by master-planning the entire site and addressing on the forefront concerns like traffic, safe access, and their impact to the surrounding communities.

The Conservation League will work to ensure that Laurel Island develops the right way, and we look forward to working collaboratively as the project moves forward.

Natalie Olson · [email protected]

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