Perhaps the best description for the “new” (wow!) and “updated” (alert the media!) plan to develop about 70 acres of land at Union Pier is that it is lipstick on a pig.
For all of the spin by developers and the State Ports Authority (SPA) about how they listened to people and added green space to the old plan to make it more attractive, it smacks of a big greedy bunch of nothing much new. It’s almost as if they floated the original plan knowing it would be unacceptable so they could announce what they really wanted as the new plan — just the kind of strategy that consummate dealmakers make to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
The plan for Union Pier is still too big. Other than some more green space, it calls for the same 600 hotel rooms (like we need that), the same number of multi-family dwelling units (1,600) and the same undernourished number of affordable housing units (50). Maybe all they did in the nice-looking drawings (we still don’t have lots of details) to accommodate more green space was to add a floor to the two dozen chunks of cookie-cutter apartments, condos and retail space.
“We don’t want this to be an ugly appendage to the city,” one port official told local Rotarians this week. Sorry, but as the flashy sales renderings now show, this concrete jungle of buildings could be up to eight stories tall in some places.They would be little more than a developed mountain that neighbors would have to view daily. Imagine a forever cruise ship parked on the land at Union Pier. That’s what the currently proposed development would be.
It’s also relevant to question why the SPA and developers still are pushing for a deal so quickly. If we move this along too quickly, we’ll suffer from unintended consequences that can range from new flooding in existing neighborhoods to more traffic and congestion.
Having everything wrapped up by the end of the year is not in our community’s long-term best interests. The SPA and developers have just put a new, sketchy plan on the table with few real details. So we reiterate: Let’s slow down. We need more information. Charleston has been adapting the built landscape for 350 years. We can spend a couple of more years getting it right so that it fits in. (And it’s not like the SPA has a mortgage due; it’s the people’s land.)
So let’s consider two alternative proposals:
First, what if developers and the SPA excise the unneeded hotel rooms, cut in half the number of multi-family housing units, add some single-family homes and include more affordable housing? The project would still make gazillions of dollars — but half as much as the towering current plan would generate.
Or second, what if we plopped a new Ion-type neighborhood in Union Pier with a few corner stores and restaurants? Revenues for the developers and SPA would be WAY down, but Union Pier would not become a new sore thumb. And the good news: This pared-down Ion-type development would STILL make money.
So let’s slow down. Let’s curb the greed surrounding what is essentially government land. And let’s keep this new part of Charleston looking more like the old, not a Disney resort.